On January 24, 2012 United States President, Barack Obama delivered the annual State of the Union address to the United States Congress. During his address, President Obama shared his perspective regarding the status of the nation and described his legislative agenda for the coming year. President Obama’s 2012 address is especially interesting as this speech is delivered in an election year in the midst of competitive Republican presidential primaries. In his State of the Union address, Obama gloated that throughout his tenure he has “put more boots on the ground than ever before,” in support of enforcement strategies along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Congruently, Republican presidential candidates have also pledged to focus on border enforcement in order to reduce the flow of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border. Restrictive positions on immigration have support from political leaders across various ideologies. This support results in self-defeating policies that have negative effects for citizens on both sides of the border. In order to comprehend the extent to which restrictive immigration policies are counterproductive for American citizens it is critical to analyze what fuels migration into the United States, why numbers of immigrants in the U.S. has risen and we must consider the existence of alternative solutions to the immigration issue.
In a globalized environment where individuals are increasingly mobile it is logical to comprehend what motivates individuals to migrate by taking a look at what motivates you or your friends or family to move across the city, state or country. Similarly as individuals change locations within countries due to economic developments, so do individuals choose to relocate across borders due to economic developments. According to Thomas J. Espenshade in Unauthorized Immigration to the United States,
“International migration is driven by regional imbalances in the supply and demand for labor. These imbalances promote low wages in countries where labor is plentiful relative to the amount of capital, and higher wages where labor is the scarcer factor of production.” (p. 204).
As a result of this, most migrants by doing a simple cost/benefit analysis will come to understand that it is in their benefit to relocate from their low wage location to a higher wage location. Therefore until there is equality in compensation for work globally, migration will always exist.
The global wage differential also creates a demand for low-skilled or low-wage workers within countries that receive high migrant flows. For example, the United States, a capitalist economy, possesses a habitual requirement for foreign workers as a result of the instability of the free-market. Espenshade notes:
“Because the cost of underutilizing capital equipment falls on businesses whereas the cost of laying off workers falls on workers themselves, owners of capital have a natural incentive to deploy capital to meet the most stable portions of demand and to use labor to satisfy the more unpredictable portions (Massey et al 1993). “ (p. 204)
Espenshade is theorizing under a dual labor market theory that for American workers to avoid such instability and economic deprivation, the workers tend to seek more stable and high skilled employment thus leaving a chasm for workers in industries that must be filled to maintain production at low costs.
Another factor behind migration from Mexico into the U.S. is weak markets for credit and insurance in Mexico. Douglas S. Massey notes in his article, International Migration in a Globalizing Economy
“…they seek to use international migration as a means of overcoming market failures that threaten their material interests at home by moving abroad temporarily.” (p. 47).
Massey is explaining that developing and underdeveloped economies currently possess weak markets that do not give individuals the needed safe-guards to protect themselves in the case of catastrophe or to even satisfy their daily human needs. Massey goes onto to explain,
“Without access to unemployment insurance, households self-insure by sending one or more members overseas to work. By allocating one family member to foreign-wage labor, a household can guarantee an income stream during times of economic recession at home” (p. 47-48).
Similarly, as citizens in America purchase insurance policies or make investments to ensure their security. Mexicans respond to the American market’s demand for low-wage labor by sending family members to the United States as a security measure, designed to meet daily consumption needs and to protect themselves against potential disaster.
The above are merely a few justifications for legally migrating into the U.S. from Mexico. What is the justification for migrating illegally that causes U.S. political leaders to vociferously boast and demand intense border enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border? The simple answer is: restrictive border policies. According to Massey,
“Despite all the public rhetoric about immigrant invasions and floods, the rate of illegal migration into the U.S. has not changed in 20 years. The only thing that has changed has been the rate of out-migration.” (p. 47).
Therefore, it is apparent that what keeps unauthorized Mexican migrants within U.S. borders is, the very solution crafted to keep them out: border enforcement. Prior to heightened border security, which was implemented along with amnesty as a result of Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act (“IRCA”), migration was circular. Mexican migrants that were unable to attain their objectives within the United States across all of American history would simply return home.
“Whereas the net undocumented migration ran at around 180,000 per year prior to the border buildup, it is currently estimated to be around 368,000 per year,” (Massey p. 47).
Evidently the heightened state of illegal immigrants that reside in the United States that is a cause of concern to our President and presidential contenders, is not the result of an invasion or threats to American security, it is merely the result of militaristic border enforcement that does not allow migrants to follow magnetic economic flows or to return home in the absence of those flows.
Ultimately the immigration debate continues because the topic has become a political commodity in the United States. Those affected most by the flawed policies are unable to cast votes, and those who are most concerned about the policies appear to be stimulated by false information. As Payne and Nassar note in Politics and Culture in the Developing World, “Globalization stimulates migration in many ways. By intensifying economic competition, globalization is seen as creating a ‘race to the bottom,’” (p. 335). The sooner United States citizens recognize this global conundrum the sooner we can create plausible solutions to the perceived immigration dilemma.
Moreover, the solutions that have been offered by researchers are potential answers to America’s deficit difficulties without compromising domestic job opportunities for citizens of the United States. “American’s billions spent on border enforcement have effectively doubled the rate of undocumented population growth within the U.S.” (Massey 47). Until American citizens recognize the self-defeating nature and ineffectiveness of enforcement only policies along the U.S.-Mexico border, solutions to the current unfavorable immigration system will continue to benefit American politicians to the detriment of American and Mexican citizens.