This is the second of a five-part series on the complex issue of Immigration. The purpose of Part II will be to describe the many causes of illegal immigration and its definition. In Part I a cursory look at what illegal immigration is was described. In Part II more detail is provided. The independent variables presented as causal factors are not exhaustive or part of some controlled laboratory experiment; they represent instead current assumptions or hypotheses about “What” causes illegal immigration from a sociological point of view. In my research I discovered quite a number of assumptions and some data to support them. What follows are the results of my research.
It is important to define our dependent variable of interest. Only in this instance the dependent variable is a legal status that had been codified into law. As every sociologist who has ever studied deviant behavior knows, “deviance legally defined” is as much as the product of the rule-makers as it is the rule-breakers. One must study the creation process of rule-making as well as the behavior of those who break those rules once created.
Before proceeding to the causes (independent variables for all you social scientists) one needs a firm grip on understanding the deviant status of the behavior one calls illegal immigration. So what is illegal immigration?
WHAT QUALIFIES A PERSON AS AN ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT?
People become illegal immigrants in one of three ways: by entering without authorization or inspection, by staying beyond the authorized period after legal entry, or by violating the terms of legal entry. Their mode of violation breaks down as follows: If the suspect entered legally without inspection, then the suspect would be classified as either a “Non-Immigrant Visa Overstayer” (4 to 5.5 million) or a “Border Crossing Card Violator” (250,000 to 500,000). If the suspect entered illegally without inspection, then the suspect would be classified as having “evaded the Immigration Inspectors and Border Patrol” (6 to 7 million).
Many people are charged with illegally re-entering the United States after being previously deported. The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines prescribe up to a 16-level offense level increase, potentially causing more than a quadrupling of one’s sentence, for illegal re-entry of certain felons into the U.S. The PROTECT Act instructed the U.S. Sentencing Commission to authorize four-level “fast-track” downward departures in illegal-reentry immigration cases upon motion of the prosecutor.
There are an estimated half million illegal entries into the United States each year.
A common means of border crossing is to hire professionals who smuggle illegal immigrants across the border for pay. Those operating on the US-Mexico border are known informally as “coyotes”.
A tourist or traveler is considered a “visa overstay” once he or she remains in the United States after the time of admission has expired. The time of admission varies greatly from traveler to traveler depending on what visa class into which they were admitted. Visa overstays tend to be somewhat more educated and better off financially than those who entered the country illegally.
To help track visa overstayers the US-VISIT (United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology) program collects and retains biographic, travel, and biometric information, such as photographs and fingerprints, of foreign nationals seeking entry into the United States. It also requires electronic readable passports containing this information.
Visa overstayers mostly enter with tourist or business visas. In 1994, more than half of illegal immigrants were Visa overstayers whereas in 2006, about 45% of illegal immigrants were Visa overstayers.
A common method of illegal immigration is visa fraud: obtaining a visa on false pretenses. The most common form is a so-called “green card marriage”, whereby a foreign national marries for purposes of avoiding immigration law, a crime in the United States, rather than to build a life together. These marriages offer the opportunity of a person who might otherwise not obtain a visa to obtain permanent residency, and potentially citizenship, by virtue of laws allowing spouses of citizens and permanent residents to obtain visas.
According to a 2008 study by the Center for Immigration Studies, there were a number of different types of green card marriages. Among others:
- mail-order bride arrangements;
- phony arranged marriages (as opposed to legitimate arranged marriages in cultures that practice them);
- arrangements in which the American resident is paid;
- human trafficking or other exploitation of the new immigrant by the American partner; and
- “heartbreaker” partners who trick American spouses into believing a marriage is genuine, when their true intention is to obtain a green card.
Economics and Labor Markets
A Neo-Classical Economic Model
The net flow of illegal immigration pattern is almost entirely from countries of lower socioeconomic levels to countries of higher socioeconomic levels, and particularly from developing countries to developed countries. While there are other causes associated with poorer countries, the most common motivation for illegal immigrants is the pursuit of greater economic opportunities and quality of life in the destination state.
Many believe there is a basic cost/benefit argument for illegal immigration. That is, potential migrants believe the probability and benefits of successfully migrating to the destination country are greater than the costs. These costs may include restrictions living as an illegal immigrant in the destination country, leaving family and ways of life behind, and the probability of being caught and resulting sanctions. Proposed economic models, based on a cost/benefit framework, have varying considerations and degrees of complexity. For example, the neoclassical economic model looks only at the probability of success in immigrating and finding employment, and the increase in real income an illegal immigrant can expect. This explanation would account for the economies of the two states, including how much of a “pull” the destination country has in terms of better-paying jobs and improvements in quality of life. It also describes a “push” that comes from negative conditions in the home country like lack of employment or economic mobility.
Neoclassical theory also accounts for the probability of successful illegal emigration. Factors that affect this include: geographic proximity, border enforcement, probability and consequences of arrest, ease of illegal employment, and chances of future legalization. This model concludes that in the destination country, illegal workers tend to add to and compete with the pool of unskilled laborers.
Illegal workers in this model are successful in finding employment by being willing to be paid lower wages than native-born workers are, sometimes below the minimum wage. Economist George Borjas supports aspects of this model, calculating that real wages of US workers without a high school degree declined by 9% from 1980-2000 due to competition from illegal immigrant workers. If these assumptions are true it implies that illegal immigrants harm some lower-income Americans (presumably a younger population of citizens just starting out in life) by taking their jobs and under-cutting the wages of such workers. However, this theory may be contradicted in the section below on Structural Demand in Developed States.
Large scale economic evidence supports neoclassical theory, as may be seen in the long-term correlation of relative wages/unemployment and illegal immigration from Mexico to the US. However, immigration scholars such as Gordon Hanson and Douglas Massey have criticized the model for being oversimplified and not accounting for contradictory evidence, such as low net illegal immigration from Mexico to the US before the 1980s despite significant economic disparity.
In recent years, developing states are pursuing the benefits of globalization by joining agreements to liberalize trade. But rapid opening of domestic markets may lead to displacement of large numbers of agricultural or unskilled workers, who are more likely to seek employment and a higher quality of life by illegal emigration. This is a frequently cited argument to explain how the North American Free Trade Association may have impoverished Mexican farmers who were unable to compete with the higher productivity of US agriculture, especially for corn. NAFTA may have also unexpectedly raised educational requirements for industrial jobs in Mexico, since the new maquiladoras produced export products requiring skills and education that many unskilled workers did not have.
Structural Demand in Developed States
Douglas Massey argues that a bifurcating labor market in developed nations creates a structural demand for unskilled immigrant labor to fill undesirable jobs that native-born citizens do not take, regardless of wages. This theory states that postindustrial economies have a widening gap between well-paying, white-collar jobs that require ever higher levels of education and “human capital”, which native-born citizens and legal immigrants can qualify to take, and bottom-tier jobs that are stigmatized and require no education. These “underclass” jobs include harvesting crops, unskilled labor in landscaping and construction, house-cleaning, and maid and busboy work in hotels and restaurants, all of which have a disproportionate number of illegal workers.
Since the decline of middle-class blue-collar jobs in manufacturing and industry, younger native-born generations have chosen to acquire higher degrees now that there are no longer “respectable” blue-collar careers that a worker with no formal education can find. The majority of new blue-collar jobs are the “underclass” work mentioned above, which suffer from unreliability (i.e. temporary jobs versus a career in a factory), subservient roles, and, critically, a lack of potential for advancement. At the same time, entry-level white-collar and service jobs are much more appealing. These they offer advancement opportunities for native-born workers to enter the dominant educated class, even if they currently pay the same or less than manual labor does.
Hence, this theory holds that in a developed country like the US, where now only 12% of the labor force has less than a high school education, there is a lack of native-born workers who have no choice but to take undesirable manual labor jobs. Illegal immigrants, on the other hand, have much lower levels of education (about 70% of illegal workers in the US from Mexico lack a high school degree). They are still willing to take “underclass” jobs due to their much higher relative wages than those in their home country. Since illegal immigrants often anticipate working only temporarily in the destination country, the lack of opportunity for advancement is less of a problem. Evidence for this can be seen in one Pew Hispanic Center poll of over 3,000 illegal immigrants from Mexico in the US, which found that 79% would voluntarily join a temporary worker program that allowed them to work legally for several years but then required them to leave.
The structural demand theory posits that simple willingness to work undesirable jobs, rather than for unusually low wages, is what gives illegal immigrants their employment.
Structural demand theory argues that cases like this show that there is no direct competition between unskilled illegal immigrants and native-born workers. This is the concept that illegal immigrants “take jobs that no one else wants”. Massey argues that this has certain implications for policy, as it may refute claims that illegal immigrants are “lowering wages” or stealing jobs from native-born workers.
While economic models do look at relative wealth and income between home and destination countries, they do not necessarily imply that illegal migrants are always impoverished by standards of the home country. The poorest classes in a developing country may lack the resources needed to mount an attempt to cross illegally, or the connections to friends or family already in the destination country. Studies from the Pew Hispanic Center have shown that the education and wage levels of illegal Mexican immigrants in the US are around the median for Mexico, and that having family who have emigrated or being from a community with many emigrants is a much better predictor of one’s choice to emigrate.
Other examples do show that increases in poverty, especially when associated with immediate crises, can increase the likelihood of illegal migration. The 1994 economic crisis in Mexico, subsequent to the start of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was associated with widespread poverty and a lower valuation for the peso relative to the dollar. It also marked the start of a massive swell in Mexican emigration, in which net illegal migration to the US increased every year from the mid-1990s until the mid 2000s.
There are also examples where natural disasters and overpopulation can amplify poverty-driven migration flows.
Population growth which exceeds the carrying capacity of an area or environment results in overpopulation. Spikes in human population can cause problems such as pollution, water crisis, and poverty. World population has grown from 1.6 billion in 1900 to an estimated 6.7 billion today. In Mexico alone, population has grown from 13.6 million in 1900 to 107 million in 2007.
In 2000, the United Nations estimated that the world’s population was growing at the rate of 1.14% (or about 75 million people) per year. According to data from the CIA’s 2005–2006 World Factbooks, the world human population currently increases by 203,800 every day. The United States Census Bureau issued a revised forecast for world population that increased its projection for the year 2050 to above 9.4 billion people, up from 9.1 billion people. We are adding a billion more every 12 years. Almost all growth will take place in the less developed regions.
Some illegal immigrants seek to live with loved ones, such as a spouse or other family members. Family reunification visas may be applied for by legal residents or naturalized citizens to bring their family members into a destination state legally, but these visas may be limited in number and subject to yearly quotas. This may force their family members to enter illegally to reunify. From studying Mexican migration patterns, Douglas Massey finds that the likelihood of a Mexican national to emigrate illegally to the US increases dramatically if they have one or more family members already residing in the United States, legally or illegally.
Due to inability to marry, same-sex couples in which one member has an expiring visa may face an “unpalatable choice between leaving and living with the person they love in violation of U.S. immigration laws”. Also, it is possible that binational same sex couples granted a legal marriage in one spouse’s state may face difficulty and even higher likelihood of deportation if they try to move to the other spouse’s home country and that state does not recognize the marriage. This may be the case if a Canadian marries an American of the same gender and tries to have the marriage recognized after moving to the US.
Wars and asylum
Illegal immigration may be prompted by the desire to escape civil war or repression in the country of origin. Non-economic push factors include persecution (religious and otherwise), frequent abuse, bullying, oppression, and genocide, and risks to civilians during war. Political motives traditionally motivate refugee flows – to escape dictatorship for instance.
It is important to note that the status of “illegal immigrant” may coincide with or be replaced by the status of “asylum seeker” for emigrants who have escaped a war or repression and have illegally crossed into another state. If they are recognized as “legitimate” asylees by the destination state, they will then gain legal status. However, there may be numerous potential asylees in a destination state who are unwilling to apply or have been denied asylum status, and hence are categorized as “illegal immigrants” and may be subject to punishment or deportation. There are numerous cases of mass emigration from poor or war-stricken states. These include examples from Africa, Colombia, and El Salvador.
After decades of armed conflict, roughly one of every 10 Colombians now lives abroad. For example, Colombians emigrating to Spain have “grown exponentially, from a little over 7,000 in 1993 to more than 80,000 in 2002 and 244,000 in 2003.” This is equivalent to 124,000 Colombian immigrants in year 2003 into Spain alone. Also, figures from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security indicate that Colombia is the fourth-leading source country of unauthorized immigration to the United States. According to its estimates, the number of unauthorized Colombian residents in the United States almost tripled from 51,000 in 1990 to 141,000 in 2000. According to the US Census Bureau, the number of authorized Colombian immigrants in the United States in 2000 was 801,363. Census data are important because, as the Department of Homeland Security states, [U.S.] “census data are more complete and reliable [than INS’s data] because of the national scope of the data collection, the vastly larger data sample, and the extensive preparation and follow-up activities involved in conducting the decennial census.”
El Salvador is another country which experienced substantial emigration as a result of civil war and repression. The largest per-capita source of immigrants to the United States comes from El Salvador. Up to a third of the world’s Salvadoran-born population lives outside the country, mostly in the United States. According to the Santa Clara County, California, Office of Human Relations.
Despite the fact that the U.S. government’s role in the Salvadoran conflict was unique in sustaining the prolongation of the civil conflict, the government and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) extended little sympathy to the people affected by the war. In the 1980s, the INS granted only 2% of political asylum applications, claiming that democracy existed in El Salvador and that reports of U.S. and government-sponsored “death squads” were overblown. As a response to what they considered a failure of the U.S. government to address the situation of Salvadoran refugees in the country, American activists established a loose network to aid refugees. Operating in clear violation of U.S. immigration laws, these activists took refugees into their houses, aided their travel, hid them and helped them find work. This became known as the “sanctuary movement”.
The continuing practice of hiring unauthorized workers has been referred to as “the magnet for illegal immigration.” As a significant percentage of employers are willing to hire illegal immigrants for higher pay than they would typically receive in their former country, illegal immigrants have prime motivation to cross borders.
In 2003, then-President of Mexico, Vicente Fox stated that remittances “are our biggest source of foreign income, bigger than oil, tourism or foreign investment” and that “the money transfers grew after Mexican consulates started giving identity cards to their citizens in the United States.” He stated that money sent from Mexican workers in the United States to their families back home reached a record $12 billion. Two years later, in 2005, the World Bank stated that Mexico was receiving $18.1 billion in remittances and that it ranked third (behind only India and China) among the countries receiving the greatest amount of remittances.
According to demographer Jeffery Passel of the Pew Hispanic Center, the flow of Mexicans to the U. S. has produced a “network effect” – furthering immigration as Mexicans moved to join relatives already in the U.S. The Pew Hispanic Center describes that the recent dramatic increase in the population of illegal immigrants has sparked more illegal immigrants to cross borders. Once the extended families of illegal immigrants cross national borders, they create a “network effect” by building large communities.
Other Contributing Causal Factors to Illegal Immigration
Analysts believe that costs, delays, and inefficiencies in processing visa applications and work permits contribute to the number of immigrants who immigrate without authorization. As of 2007 there was a backlog of 1.1 million green card applications, and the typical waiting time was three years.
Trade agreements and government failures
The Rockridge Institute argues that globalization and trade agreement affected international migration, as laborers moved to where they could find jobs. Raising the standard of living around the world, a promise the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank, would reduce the economic incentive for illegal immigration. However, governments have not followed through on all of these programs.
The Mexican government failed to make promised investments of billions of dollars in roads, schooling, sanitation, housing, and other infrastructure to accommodate the new maquiladoras (border factories) envisioned under NAFTA. As a result few were built, and China surpassed Mexico in goods produced for the United States market. Instead of the anticipated increase, the number of manufacturing jobs in Mexico dropped from 4.1 million in 2000 to 3.5 million in 2004. The 1994 economic crisis in Mexico, which occurred the year NAFTA went into effect, resulted in a devaluation of the Mexican peso, decreasing the wages of Mexican workers relative to those in the United States. Meanwhile, more efficient agricultural operations in the United States and the elimination of tariffs under NAFTA caused the price of corn to fall 70% in Mexico between 1994 and 2001, and the number of farm jobs to decrease from 8.1 million in 1993 to 6.8 million in 2002.
Corruption hurts the economy of Mexico, which in turn leads to migration to the United States. Mexico was perceived as the 72nd least corrupt state out of 179 according to Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index, a survey of international business (for comparison, the United States ranked as the 20th least corrupt). Global Integrity estimates that in 2006 corruption cost the Mexican economy $60 billion per year. A survey by the Mexican research firm, Centro de Estudios Económicos del Sector Privado, found that 79 percent of companies in Mexico believe that “illegal transactions” are a serious obstacle to business development.
Mexican federal and state government assistance
The US Department of Homeland Security and some advocacy groups have criticized a program of the government of the state of Yucatan and that of a federal Mexican agency directed to Mexicans migrating to and residing in the United States. They claim that the assistance includes advice on how to get across the U.S. border illegally, where to find healthcare, enroll their children in public schools, and send money to Mexico. The Mexican federal government also issues identity cards to Mexicans living outside of Mexico.
- In 2005 the government of Yucatan produced a handbook and DVD about the risks and implications of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The guide told immigrants where to find health care, how to get their kids into U.S. schools, and how to send money home. Officials in Yucatan said the guide is a necessity to save lives but some American groups accused the government of encouraging illegal immigration.
- In 2005 the Mexican government was criticized for distributing a comic book which offers tips to illegal aliens emigrating to the United States. That comic book recommends to illegal immigrants, once they have safely crossed the border, “Don’t call attention to yourself…. Avoid loud parties…. Don’t become involved in fights.” The Mexican government defends the guide as an attempt to save lives. “It’s kind of like illegal immigration for dummies,” said the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, Mark Krikorian. “Promoting safe illegal immigration is not the same as arguing against it.” The comic book does state on its last page that the Mexican Government does not promote illegal crossing at all and only encourages visits to the U.S. with all required documentation.
Groups in favor of strict immigration enforcement oppose Matrícula Consular (“Consular Registration”), an identification card issued by the Government of Mexico through its consulate offices. The purpose of the card is to demonstrate that the bearer is a Mexican national living outside of Mexico. Similar consular identification cards are the Guatemalan CID card and the Argentinian CID card as well as a number of other CID cards issued to citizens of Colombia, El Salvador, and Honduras. The document is accepted at financial institutions in many states and, in conjunction with an IRS Taxpayer Identification Number, allows illegal immigrants to open checking and saving accounts. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former President Bill Clinton promote the use of foreign government CID cards in U.S. financial institutions. In December 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger launched Bank on California which calls on California mayors to specifically encourage the use of the Mexican CID and Guatemalan CID card by banks and credit unions as a primary identification when opening an account.
The causes presented above cover the entire gamut of political, social, and economic reasons there is illegal immigration to the United States. Both “push” and “pull” factors operate in all three areas of reasons or causes. In this (Part II) the definition and causes of illegal immigration have simply been presented. What hasn’t been described is the push factor of drug violence and human rights abuses (including kidnapping and murder) currently going on extensively in Mexico. This factor will be covered by itself in (Part V) of this five-part series. In the next article (Part III) the impact of these causes will be evaluated. While not knowing the actual goals and objectives of an American policy on immigration right now, I will nonetheless endeavor to present its impact in a sociological opinion format. Accordingly, I will present, based on survey research, public opinion on the issue of illegal immigration. In that way the reader of my blog can better form his or her own opinion on this complex and, at times, troubling issue. This issue of illegal immigration is one where the U.S. Congress ought to follow the lead of the American public rather than the other way around.