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Self-selection among undocumented immigrants from Mexico


  • Pia M. Orrenius
  • Madeline Zavodny


This paper examines the effect of changes in migration determinants on the skill level of undocumented immigrants from Mexico. The authors focus on the effect of changes in economic conditions, migrant networks, and border enforcement on the educational attainment of Mexican-born men who cross the border illegally. Although previous research indicates that illegal aliens from Mexico tend to be unskilled relative to U.S. natives and that economic conditions, networks, and border enforcement affect the size of illegal immigrant flows across the border, the interaction of these variables has not been investigated. Results from hazard models using data from the Mexican Migration Project indicate that improvements in U.S. and Mexican economic conditions are associated with a decline in the average educational levels of undocumented immigrants. Stricter border enforcement is associated with higher average skill levels. Access to a network of previous immigrants appears to lower the cost of migrating but has no differential effect by skill level.

Suggested Citation

  • Pia M. Orrenius & Madeline Zavodny, 2001. "Self-selection among undocumented immigrants from Mexico," FRB Atlanta Working Paper 2001-1, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedawp:2001-1

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Borjas, George J., 1996. "The earnings of Mexican immigrants in the United States," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 51(1), pages 69-98, October.
    3. Rachel M. Friedberg & Jennifer Hunt, 1995. "The Impact of Immigrants on Host Country Wages, Employment and Growth," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 23-44, Spring.
    4. Stark, Oded & Taylor, J Edward, 1991. "Migration Incentives, Migration Types: The Role of Relative Deprivation," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 101(408), pages 1163-1178, September.
    5. Katharine Donato & Jorge Durand & Douglas Massey, 1992. "Stemming the tide? Assessing the deterrent effects of the immigration reform and control act," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 29(2), pages 139-157, May.
    6. Paul Winters & Alain de Janvry & Elisabeth Sadoulet, 2001. "Family and Community Networks in Mexico-U.S. Migration," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 36(1), pages 159-184.
    7. George J. Borjas & Richard B. Friedman & Lawrence F. Katz, 1997. "How Much Do Immigration and Trade Affect Labor Market Outcomes?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 28(1), pages 1-90.
    8. Borjas, George J, 1987. "Self-Selection and the Earnings of Immigrants," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(4), pages 531-553, September.
    9. Card, David, 2001. "Immigrant Inflows, Native Outflows, and the Local Labor Market Impacts of Higher Immigration," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 19(1), pages 22-64, January.
    10. George J. Borjas, 1994. "The Economics of Immigration," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 32(4), pages 1667-1717, December.
    11. Jorge Durand & William Kandel & Emilio Parrado & Douglas Massey, 1996. "International migration and development in mexican communities," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 33(2), pages 249-264, May.
    12. Frank Bean & B. Lowell & Lowell Taylor, 1988. "Undocumented Mexican immigrants and the earnings of other workers in the United States," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 25(1), pages 35-52, February.
    13. Daniel Chiquiar & Gordon H. Hanson, 2005. "International Migration, Self-Selection, and the Distribution of Wages: Evidence from Mexico and the United States," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(2), pages 239-281, April.
    14. George J. Borjas, 2003. "The Labor Demand Curve is Downward Sloping: Reexamining the Impact of Immigration on the Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 9755, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Smith, J-P & Thomas, D, 1997. "Migration in Retrospect : Remembrances of Things Past," Papers 97-06, RAND - Labor and Population Program.
    16. John M. Abowd & Richard B. Freeman, 1991. "Immigration, Trade, and the Labor Market," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number abow91-1, January.
    17. George J. Borjas, 2003. "The Labor Demand Curve is Downward Sloping: Reexamining the Impact of Immigration on the Labor Market," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(4), pages 1335-1374.
    18. Barry Chiswick, 1999. "Are Immigrants Favorably Self-Selected?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 181-185, May.
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    More about this item


    Immigrants ; Emigration and immigration ; Labor supply;

    JEL classification:

    • F22 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Migration
    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers

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