Reforming the Management of Migration Flows from Latin America to the United States (Working Paper #170)

Wayne Cornelius, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, UC San Diego

Introduction: For the past 15 years, the United States has had a strategy of controlling unauthorized immigration from Mexico and other Latin American countries that overwhelmingly emphasized border enforcement, coupled with extremely weak worksite enforcement and no effort to reduce the unauthorized flow by increasing legal-entry opportunities, especially for low-skilled workers. Under the “prevention through deterrence” doctrine adopted by the U.S. Border Patrol in the early 1990s, illegal entries were to be prevented by a concentrated “show of force” on specific segments of the border, which, it was believed, would also discourage crossing attempts from being made in areas less heavily fortified but more remote and dangerous to migrants. Tens of billions of dollars have been invested in the border enforcement build-up since 1993. Spending on border enforcement has more than tripled during this period, in constant dollars, and by the end of FY 2009 the Border Patrol will be more than three times as large as it was in FY 1996 (see Figure 1)

Work Paper #170