Border Backfire

Immigration study


Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump promises that he would deport all 11 million undocumented migrants living in the United States. But why did so many come and then choose to stay?

A March study in the American Journal of Sociology, "Why Border Enforcement Backfired," finds that ever-greater efforts to close down the border led to the decision by many of those who made it here to remain in America rather than risk returning to their home countries. From 1986 to 2010, the U.S. government spent $35 billion on border enforcement. The result was to essentially militarize the boundary line with Mexico, making it harder for migrants to travel safely back and forth. Crossers were more frequently caught and forced to choose more dangerous routes to slip back into the U.S.

As one of the researchers, the Princeton sociologist Douglas Massey, explained at, "As the costs and risks rose, migrants naturally minimized border crossing—not by remaining in Mexico but by staying in the United States." And under those circumstances, migrants were more likely to bring their families with them. The researchers conclude that greater border enforcement unintentionally transformed "undocumented Mexican migration from a circular flow of male workers going to three states into an 11 million person population of settled families living in 50 states."