Monday, April 20, 2009

Evaluating U.S. Immigration Control Policy in a Recession Context: Priceless

In my next blog contributions in English, I would like to share with you some thoughts about recent (2009) research works on Latino immigrant issues that I consider interesting. You can find links to most of the works that I plan to address in my webpage, in the preliminary presentation of the section titled: Papers, Reports and Field Research.

I would like to start with Wayne Cornelius’ “Evaluating U.S. Immigration Control Policy: What Mexican Migrants Can Tell Us.” This research is a direct product of The Mexican Migration Field Research and Training Program, sponsored by the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies (CCIS) at the University of California, San Diego. The research addressed the issue from an inductive, analytical perspective: Based on a case study, it arrives to very solid and specific conclusions about the main problems that undocumented immigration is facing during economic hard-times in the United States.

The CCIS research team conducts its survey research in a little Yucatan town in Mexico, and is working on two other sending communities in the states of Jalisco and Oaxaca. The main research question that the CCIS team addresses is: Does current U.S. immigration control policy deter and prevent illegal entry? The official response at the end of the Bush administration in 2008 was “yes”: Border apprehensions are declining thanks to the detention efforts undertaken by the administration.

The Yucatan-based research offers “alternative” explanations to the decline of border apprehensions: reduced circularity in migration, an outstanding increase in the use of people-smugglers, development of new modes of illegal entry and, most important of all, less demand for U.S. labor. The research ends up by suggesting better ways to control immigration: emphasize workplace enforcement over border enforcement, legalize most undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., fix the legal immigration system, etc. Within the "developmental approach" set of solutions, the research suggests, among other things, to focus on projects that improve the employment base in migrant-sending areas via improving more and better-paid jobs.

I think that the research questions, methodology and findings of this impressive field research are straightforward and powerful, and they can be applied to highlight the study of the current flow of undocumented Mexican immigration to the United States, within the specific context of the U.S. and Mexican economies in recession.

I wonder if the complete CCIS study or similar studies could address other equally important issues that could give us a highly valuable comparative perception on matters like: To what extent are important for the Mexican communities the specifics of the economy of certain U.S. cities Vs. an assumed high mobility of immigrant labor in American cities whenever a city’s economy suffers harder than the economy of other city? Or what is the effect of different local policing policies on immigration on the mobility of the immigrant community as soon as the undocumented immigrant community does not trust anymore the local police once they become “ICE agents”? Or what are the effects of negative public opinion on immigration on internal or external migration of undocumented workers in the U.S. during recession time? And of course, if possible, it would be great to go back to these communities in 2019 to study what happened après le déluge...

Finally, the CCIS research points out the elephant in the room from the Mexican perspective: after more than 25 years of neoliberal policies, the problem of a highly emigrant population for the Mexican economy certainly is not about jobs, it is about well-paid jobs.

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