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Opening the Door: Immigrant Legalization and Family Reunification in the United States


  • Elizabeth U. Cascio
  • Ethan G. Lewis


Does opening the door to U.S. citizenship for unauthorized immigrants cause out- of-control “chain migration”? We address this question using variation from the legalization programs of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). Exploiting IRCA’s introduction and differences across metropolitan areas in program intensity, we estimate that each IRCA-legalized Mexican was responsible for the subsequent immigration and legal admission of one relative – in total – through 2019. Most sponsored relatives were immediate family, and the adult sponsorship rate is inconsistent with out-of-control chain migration. Estimates using cross-country variation are substantively similar and suggest limited demand for reunification of extended families.

Suggested Citation

  • Elizabeth U. Cascio & Ethan G. Lewis, 2020. "Opening the Door: Immigrant Legalization and Family Reunification in the United States," NBER Working Papers 27874, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:27874
    Note: LS

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    Cited by:

    1. Timilsina, Laxman, 2023. "Immigration policy shocks and infant health," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 51(C).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • F22 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Migration
    • J08 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics Policies
    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers
    • J68 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Public Policy

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