The Costs and Benefits of Immigration Enforcement
For more than two decades, the U.S. government has attempted to put a stop to unauthorized immigration from (and through) Mexico by implementing “enforcement-only” measures along the U.S.-Mexico border and at work sites throughout the country. These measures have not only failed to end unauthorized immigration, but have placed downward pressure on wages in a broad swath of industries. In recent decades, the U.S. government’s avoidance of immigration reform and dependence upon enforcement-only approaches to immigration has served only to deepen a vicious cycle of underground labor markets, lower wages, lower consumption, lower tax revenue, and reduced productivity. Were the government to end this failed enforcement-only crusade and create a pathway to legal status for unauthorized immigrants in the United States, as well as new legal limits on immigration that respond to market forces, it would raise the social floor for the entire U.S. economy—to the benefit of both immigrants and native-born workers.
The U.S. government would raise the social floor for the entire economy if it created a pathway to legal status for unauthorized immigrants in the country. Working paper presented at the Baker Institute Latin America Initiative conference "Immigration Reform: A System for the 21st Century."