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Illegal Immigration, Border Enforcement, and Relative Wages: Evidence from Apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico Border

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  • Antonio Spilimbergo
  • Gordon H. Hanson

Abstract

We examine illegal immigration in the United States from Mexico over the period 1976-1995. One challenge is that we do not observe the number of individuals that attempt to enter the United States illegally; we only observe the number of individuals apprehended attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Based on a simple migration model, we postulate the existence of an apprehensions function, which expresses apprehensions at the border as a function of illegal attempts to cross the border and U.S. border-enforcement effort. We estimate a reduced-form apprehensions function using monthly data on apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border, person hours the U.S. Border Patrol spends policing the border, and wages in the United States and Mexico. We find that a 10% decrease in the Mexican real wage leads to a 7.5% to 8.8% increase in apprehensions at the border. Under plausible conditions this is a lower bound for the effect of the Mexican wage on attempted illegal immigration. It is the purchasing power of U.S. wages in Mexico, not the purchasing power of U.S. wages in the United States, that matters for border apprehensions, suggesting that migrants expect to maintain ties with Mexico. Border apprehensions are higher in the month following a large devaluation of the peso and higher when the change in the Mexican real wage is negative. Each additional hour the U.S. Border Patrol spends policing the border yields an additional 0.25 to 0.33 apprehensions.
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Suggested Citation

  • Antonio Spilimbergo & Gordon H. Hanson, 1999. "Illegal Immigration, Border Enforcement, and Relative Wages: Evidence from Apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico Border," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1337-1357, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:89:y:1999:i:5:p:1337-1357
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.89.5.1337
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. George J. Borjas, 1992. "National Origin and the Skills of Immigrants in the Postwar Period," NBER Chapters,in: Immigration and the Workforce: Economic Consequences for the United States and Source Areas, pages 17-48 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. M. C. Burda, 1995. "Migration and the Option Value of Waiting," SFB 373 Discussion Papers 1995,58, Humboldt University of Berlin, Interdisciplinary Research Project 373: Quantification and Simulation of Economic Processes.
    3. Shaw, R Paul, 1986. "Fiscal versus Traditional Market Variables in Canadian Migration," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(3), pages 648-666, June.
    4. Ethier, Wilfred J, 1986. "Illegal Immigration: The Host-Country Problem," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(1), pages 56-71, March.
    5. Ethier, Wilfred J, 1985. "International Trade and Labor Migration," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(4), pages 691-707, September.
    6. John M. Abowd & Richard B. Freeman, 1991. "Immigration, Trade, and the Labor Market," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number abow91-1, December.
    7. George J. Borjas, 1994. "The Economics of Immigration," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 32(4), pages 1667-1717, December.
    8. George J. Borjas & Richard B. Freeman & Kevin Lang, 1991. "Undocumented Mexican-born Workers in the United States: How Many, How Permanent?," NBER Chapters,in: Immigration, Trade, and the Labor Market, pages 77-100 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts

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