On the Border

Kevin Lewis

April 08, 2011

What Drives U.S. Immigration Policy? Evidence from Congressional Roll Call Votes

Giovanni Facchini & Max Friedrich Steinhardt
Journal of Public Economics, forthcoming

Immigration is one of the most hotly debated policy issues in the United States today. Despite marked divergence of opinions within political parties, several important immigration reforms were introduced in the post 1965 era. The purpose of this paper is to systematically analyze the drivers of congressional voting behavior on immigration policy during the period 1970-2006, and in particular, to assess the role of economic factors at the district level. Our findings provide robust evidence that representatives of more skilled labor abundant constituencies are more likely to support an open immigration policy concerning unskilled labor. Thus, a simple factor-proportions-analysis model provides useful insights regarding the policy making process on one of the most controversial facets of globalization.


Migration from Mexico to the United States: Wage Benefits of Crossing the Border and Going to the U.S. Interior

Ernesto Aguayo-Tellez & Christian Rivera-Mendoza
Politics & Policy, February 2011, Pages 119-140

Emigrating from Mexico to the United States requires three steps: going to the border, crossing it, and going to the final U.S. destination. This article attempts to measure the earnings benefits of each migration step, focusing particularly on the second step: crossing the border. Using U.S and Mexican microdata of workers living in Mexico and in the United States, this article compares wages of identical individuals on both sides of the border after controlling for unobserved differences between migrants and nonmigrants. On average, Mexican workers increase their wages 1.22 times by moving to the Mexican side of the border, 4.15 times by crossing it, and 1.12 times by moving to an interior location in the United States. Gains are larger for unskilled workers. Also, gains for crossing the border are larger for illegal workers, while gains for going to the U.S. interior are larger for legal workers.


The typification of Hispanics as criminals and support for punitive crime control policies

Kelly Welch et al.
Social Science Research, May 2011, Pages 822-840

The Hispanic population is now the largest and fastest growing minority in the United States, so it is not surprising that ethnic threat linked to Hispanics has been associated with harsher crime control. While minority threat research has found that individuals who associate blacks with crime are more likely to support harsh criminal policies, the possibility that this relationship exists for those who typify Hispanics as criminal has yet to be examined. Using a national random sample, this study is the first to use HLM to find that perceptions of Hispanics as criminals do increase support for punitive crime control measures, controlling for various individual and state influences. Moderated and contextual analyses indicate this relationship is most applicable for individuals who are less apt to typify criminals as black, less prejudiced, less fearful of victimization, politically liberal or moderate, not parents, and living in states with relatively fewer Latin American immigrants.


Migration from Mexico to the United States and Subsequent Risk for Depressive and Anxiety Disorders: A Cross-National Study

Joshua Breslau et al.
Archives of General Psychiatry, April 2011, Pages 428-433

Context: Migration is suspected to increase risk for depressive and anxiety disorders.

Objective: To test the hypothesized increase in risk for depressive and anxiety disorders after arrival in the United States among Mexican migrants.

Design: We combined data from surveys conducted separately in Mexico and the United States that used the same diagnostic interview. Discrete time survival models were specified to estimate the relative odds of first onset of depressive disorders (major depressive episode and dysthymia) and anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, panic disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder) among migrants after their arrival in the United States compared with nonmigrant Mexicans who have a migrant in their immediate family.

Setting: Population surveys in the United States and Mexico.

Participants: Two thousand five hundred nineteen nonmigrant family members of migrants in Mexico and 554 Mexican migrants in the United States.

Main Outcome Measures: First onset of any depressive or anxiety disorder.

Results: After arrival in the United States, migrants had a significantly higher risk for first onset of any depressive or anxiety disorder than did nonmigrant family members of migrants in Mexico (odds ratio, 1.42; 95% confidence interval, 1.04-1.94). Associations between migration and disorder varied across birth cohorts. Elevated risk among migrants relative to nonmigrants was restricted to the 2 younger cohorts (those aged 18-25 or 26-35 years at interview). In the most recent birth cohort, the association between migration and first onset of any depressive or anxiety disorder was particularly strong (odds ratio, 3.89; 95% confidence interval, 2.74-5.53).

Conclusions: This is, to our knowledge, the first study to compare risk for first onset of psychiatric disorder between representative samples of migrants in the United States and nonmigrants in Mexico. The findings are consistent with the hypothesized adverse effect of migration from Mexico to the United States on the mental health of migrants, but only among migrants in recent birth cohorts.


How would selecting for skill change flows of immigrants to the United States? A simulation of three merit-based point systems

Laura Hill & Joseph Hayes
Review of Economics of the Household, March 2011, Pages 1-23

The policies determining how the foreign born enter the United States are some of the most complicated, least understood, and most disliked of all federal policies. This paper uses New Immigrant Survey (2003) data to examine how proposed changes to U.S. immigration policy might alter the composition of legal permanent residents (LPRs) admitted. Specifically, we consider the 2007 federal proposal that would have placed greater emphasis on employment and skills by instituting a merit-based point system while eliminating some types of family sponsorship. We also simulate point scores for the 2003 LPR cohort according to the point systems used in Canada and Australia. We find that, despite significant variation in point allocations, the three systems would admit similar numbers and types of immigrants. In the 2007 U.S. proposal, work experience in the United States is extremely important for earning high point scores. Thus, the proposal would place even more stress on temporary visa programs.


English Gain vs. Spanish Loss?: Language Assimilation among Second-Generation Latinos in Young Adulthood

Van Tran
Social Forces, September 2010, Pages 257-284

Analyzing three waves of data from the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Survey, this article explores the process of language assimilation among second-generation Latinos. Although previous studies have focused on the shift from mother tongue to English across immigrant generations, few have examined change in language proficiency over time within the second generation. Results from a series of growth-curve models suggest three findings. First, both English and Spanish proficiency increased over time. Second, significant differences exist across Latino ethnic groups, with Mexicans being least proficient in English and most proficient in Spanish. Third, use of Spanish at home and in school has no effect on English acquisition, but significantly promotes Spanish retention. Overall, these findings lend support for the emergence of a new context for bilingualism.


Toward an Alternative Explanation for the Resource Curse: Natural Resources, Immigration, and Democratization

David Bearce & Jennifer Laks Hutnick
Comparative Political Studies, forthcoming

Why do many resource-rich countries maintain autocratic political regimes? The authors' proposed answer focuses on the causal effect of labor imports, or immigration. Using the logic offered by Acemoglu and Robinson's democratization model, the authors posit that immigration makes democratization less likely because it facilitates redistributive concessions to appease the population within an autocratic regime. This immigration argument applies directly to the political resource curse since many resource-rich countries tend to also be labor scarce, leading them to import foreign laborers. Consistent with this understanding, the authors find a statistically significant negative relationship between net immigration per capita and democratization in future periods. Their results also show that when controlling for this immigration effect, the standard resource curse variables lose significance in a democratization model. This latter result suggests that much of the so-called resource curse stems not from resource endowments per se but rather from the labor imports related to resource production.


Profits and poverty: Certification's troubled link for Nicaragua's organic and fairtrade coffee producers

Tina Beuchelt & Manfred Zeller
Ecological Economics, forthcoming

Governments, donors and NGOs have promoted environmental and social certification schemes for coffee producers as certified market channels are assumed to offer higher prices and better incomes. Additionally, it is presumed that these certifications contribute to poverty reduction of smallholders. Yet, gross margins, profits and poverty levels of certified smallholder coffee producers have not yet been quantitatively analyzed applying random sampling techniques. Our quantitative household survey of 327 randomly selected members of conventional, organic and organic-fairtrade certified cooperatives in Nicaragua is complemented by over a hundred qualitative in-depth interviews. The results show that although farm-gate prices of certified coffees are higher than of conventional coffees, the profitability of certified coffee production and its subsequent effect on poverty levels is not clear-cut. Per capita net coffee incomes are insufficient to cover basic needs of all coffee producing households. Certified producers are more often found below the absolute poverty line than conventional producers. Over a period of ten years, our analysis shows that organic and organic-fairtrade farmers have become poorer relative to conventional producers. We conclude that coffee yield levels, profitability and efficiency need to be increased, because prices for certified coffee cannot compensate for low productivity, land or labor constraints.


Migration for degrading work as an escape from humiliation

Oded Stark & Simon Fan
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, March 2011, Pages 241-247

This paper develops a model of voluntary migration into degrading work. The essence of the model is a tension between two "bads:" that which arises from being relatively deprived at home, and that which arises from engaging in humiliating work away from home. Balancing between these two "bads" can give rise to an explicit, voluntary choice to engage in humiliating work. The paper identifies conditions under which a migrant will choose to engage in degrading work rather than being forced into it, to work abroad as a prostitute, say, rather than on a farm. The paper delineates the possible equilibria and finds that greater relative deprivation will make it more likely that the equilibrium outcome will be "engagement in prostitution." It is shown that under well specified conditions, every individual will work as a prostitute, yet every individual would be better off working on a farm. Put differently, when specific conditions are satisfied, there is a possibility of a "coordination failure:" if individuals believe that everyone else will choose to be a prostitute, this belief will be self-fulfilling. In this case, all the individuals choose to engage in prostitution, which renders each of them worse off. The paper discusses various policy implications. It is shown that a policy intervention (a crackdown on migrants' engagement in prostitution), if implemented strictly, can increase everyone's welfare, but when the policy is implemented loosely, cracking down on prostitution will only reduce individuals' welfare without reducing their engagement in prostitution.


Attitudes towards foreigners and Jews in Germany: Identifying the determinants of xenophobia in a large opinion survey

Michael Fertig & Christoph Schmidt
Review of Economics of the Household, March 2011, Pages 99-128

The ultimate aim of opinion surveys is the provision of information on the distribution of preferences and perceptions at the individual level. Yet, eliciting this information from the data is typically difficult. This paper uses a structural model to explain the answers on a set of questions regarding the perception of foreigners and Jews by native Germans. In this model it is assumed that in addition to observable individual characteristics there exists an underlying unobserved attitude towards minorities which drives the distribution of answers by native respondents. This latent variable in turn is assumed to be influenced by a set of observable socio-economic characteristics of the individuals. In order to estimate this model it is necessary to impose strong identification restrictions. Estimation results show that education is the key correlate of the perception of foreigners and Jews in Germany.


Legal Status and Wage Disparities for Mexican Immigrants

Matthew Hall, Emily Greenman & George Farkas
Social Forces, December 2010, Pages 491-513

This article employs a unique method of inferring the legal status of Mexican immigrants in the Survey of Income and Program Participation to offer new evidence of the role of legal authorization in the United States on workers' wages. We estimate wage trajectories for four groups: documented Mexican immigrants, undocumented Mexican immigrants, U.S-born Mexican Americans and native non-Latino whites. Our estimates reveal a gross 17 percent wage disparity between documented and undocumented Mexican immigrant men, and a 9 percent documented-undocumented wage disparity for Mexican immigrant women. When worker human capital and occupation are held constant, these wage gaps reduce to 8 and 4 percent, respectively. We also find large differences in returns to human capital with undocumented Mexican immigrants having the lowest wage returns to human capital and having very slow wage growth over time.


Rethinking the Area Approach: Immigrants and the Labor Market in California

Giovanni Peri
Journal of International Economics, forthcoming

A framework that uses a Constant Elasticity of Substitution (CES) production function with skill differentiation and integrated national labor markets has predictions for the employment effect of immigrants at the local level. The employment (rather than wage) response to immigration by skill in a state reveals the production substitutability-complementarity between native and immigrant labor. This, in turn, reveals the degree to which immigrants stimulate or depress the demand for native labor. To estimate this elasticity, I use a novel instrument based on demographic characteristics of total Central American migrants or of the Mexican Population to predict immigration by skill level within California. Looking at immigration to California between 1960 and 2005 these estimates support the assumption of a nationally integrated labor market by skill and they support the hypothesis that natives and immigrants in the same education-experience group are not perfectly substitutable. This explains the counter-intuitive fact that there is a zero correlation between immigration and wage and employment outcomes of natives in the state.


The Poverty Reduction Success of Public Transfers for Working Age Immigrants and Refugees in the United States

Christopher Bollinger & Paul Hagstrom
Contemporary Economic Policy, April 2011, Pages 191-206

Although there has been some research on the impacts of federal tax and transfer policies on poverty rates for immigrants, virtually no previous work investigates the most disadvantaged group of immigrants: refugees. We estimate probit models for three standard measures of poverty. We find that while immigrants and refugees in particular had much higher poverty rates in the early 1990s, the strong economic growth of the 1990s led to a convergence of those poverty rates by 2000. Our analysis demonstrates that the improvement was largely because of economic conditions and that welfare reform policies appear to have little differential impact on immigrants or refugees. We also find that refugees show a markedly greater response to local labor market conditions than other immigrants or native born.


Low-skilled immigrant entrepreneurship

Magnus Lofstrom
Review of Economics of the Household, March 2011, Pages 25-44

More than 1/2 of the foreign born workforce in the US have no schooling beyond high school and about 20% of the low-skilled workforce are immigrants. More than 10% of these low-skilled immigrants are self-employed. Utilizing longitudinal data from the 1996, 2001 and 2004 Survey of Income and Program Participation panels, this paper analyzes the returns to self-employment among low-skilled immigrants. We find that the returns to low-skilled self-employment among immigrants is higher than it is among natives but also that wage/salary employment is a more financially rewarding option for most low-skilled immigrants. In analyses of earnings differences, we find that most of the 20% male native-immigrant earnings gap among low-skilled business owners can be explained primarily by differences in the ethnic composition. Low-skilled female foreign born entrepreneurs are found to have earnings roughly equal to otherwise observationally similar self-employed native born women.


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