Illegal Immigration is Yesterday’s Problem


Written by Richard Hokenson 

It is always gratifying to have the conclusion of an analysis published nearly 10 years ago confirmed in a recent paper by Hanson et al (2017) which was presented at a Brookings Institute Brookings Papers on Economic Activity Conference. In our November 2007 report entitled “A Reversal in the Illegal Migration Tsunami”, we stated that the major driver in undocumented migration flows to the U.S. was demographic push, I.e. changes in the number of persons most likely to emigrate (see Charts 1 and 2).

Their numbers would soon decline and we concluded that “…the reversal in the demographic fundamentals imply that what had been a tsunami may now become an ebb tide.” This conclusion is affirmed by the steep drop in Southwest Border Apprehensions of Mexican Citizens (see Chart 3). Recent total apprehensions would have been much lower were it not for a surge in apprehensions of family units and unaccompanied alien children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, persons who are principally fleeing civil strife in their home countries (see Chart 4).

Changes in the demographics of the sending countries made it certain that there would be a substantial reduction in illegal emigration to the U.S. Although demographic push is the principal force driving this change, it is not the only issue. Another contributing factor were changes in U.S. border enforcement. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of agents stationed on the U.S.-Mexico border doubled from 8,580 to 17,535 and have since remained at that level (see Chart 5). Increased domestic enforcement led to an increase in deportations of noncriminal aliens from 116,000 persons in 2001 to an average of 220,000 persons per year between 2007 and 2015. The Global Financial Crisis was also a factor, but we concur with the conclusion of Hanson et al that “…there are good reasons to believe that the Great Recession may have merely advanced forward in time an inevitable reduction in low-skilled immigration.”

It is perhaps ironic that as we were preparing this report, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal highlighting labor shortages in agriculture and construction, industries which have historically had a sizeable reliance on immigrants, legal or otherwise (See article) Even if that might ultimately lead to a major shift in current sentiment regarding immigration, the U.S. may discover that attracting workers turns out to be much more difficult than currently perceived.

Hanson, Gordon, Chen Liu and Craig Mctinosh, “Along the watchtower: The rise and fall of U.S.low-skilled immigration”, Brookings Papers on Economic Activity”, BPEA Confernce Drafts, March 23-24, 2017. See Article

Richard Hokenson is a pioneer in the application of demographics to economic and financial market forecasting. 

This update was researched and written by Richard Hokenson, as of March 31 2017