Pregnant pay premium to get into US

Development: On 11 November the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a report on the prices illegal Mexican immigrants pay to get into the US.

Significance: The DHS working paper argues that the effort and expense the US has put into reinforcing its southwestern border between 1993 and 2006 has pushed up the price illegal migrants have to pay to get into the US. The DHS reckons that the price illegal migrants have to pay people traffickers jumped from US$600 a head in 1993 to US$1,500 in 2007. Pregnant migrants usually pay even more. The DHS working paper found that 95% of first-time crossers used people smugglers in 2006.

The DHS admits that its estimate of the cost of being smuggled into the US is at the lower end of the spectrum. The Mexican Migration Field Research and Training Program survey (MMFRP) puts the 2006 price at well over US$2,250.

What is fascinating about the DHS working paper is how tentative its conclusions are. It points out that there is little evidence on whether people smugglers have tried to lower their unit costs by smuggling other goods (such as drugs) into the US alongside people.

The links the DHS does make are pointed: it cites an academic study which suggests that a 10% decline in Mexican wages compared with US wages leads to a 6% increase in border apprehensions. In the past 12 months border apprehensions have dropped by 17%, year-on-year, to 473,000. This suggests that potential Mexican migrants now calculate that the risks of crossing into the US are higher than the potential rewards.