Angela S. Garcia Publishes Article in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies

CCIS Graduate Student and PhD Candidate in Sociology Angela S. Garcia has published an article in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

The paper, titled “Hidden in Plain Sight: How Unauthorized Migrants Strategically Assimilate in Restrictive Localities in California” (download), shows how the immediate legal contexts of receiving communities of unauthorized Mexican immigrants.

 

 

Mapping DACA Renewals

By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., tomkwong@ucsd.edu, @twong002

PDF of report here

DACA: 2 Years Later 

According to the latest figures released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), over half a million (521,815) undocumented youth have received temporary relief from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The first DACA applications were submitted on August 15, 2012 and USCIS started approving applications a month later.

DACA is a temporary two-year status, which means that 2014 is the first year that “DACAmented” youth will have to renew their status. USCIS, immigrant-serving organizations, and other stakeholders across the country are already deep in planning and preparing for the renewal process. Will the renewal process mirror the initial success of DACA? To what extent will the costs associated with renewing deter individuals from reapplying? Should we even expect all “DACAmented” youth to reapply These are just some of the questions that loom over the renewal process.

In an effort to inform outreach efforts, this report uses data obtained from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to identify and map where the first wave of DACA renewals are likely to be concentrated.

The Data

The FOIA data analyzed here are the first 146,313 applications submitted to USCIS from August 15, 2012 to September 30, 2012. While it has been 18 months since USCIS began accepting applications, nearly one-quarter of all DACA applications submitted to date were submitted during this time period. Moreover, state-level trends in DACA applications during the first months of the program, with some exceptions, largely mirror current trends.

The data can thus speak to the first wave of DACA renewals and are also informative when it comes to evaluating DACA on the whole. Identifying where DACA renewals are likely to be concentrated is no easy task, as DACA applicants are spread widely across the country. For example, 10,678 zip codes and 1,922 counties are represented in the first 146,313 applications alone. However, there are only 148 counties that are home to between 100 and 449 applicants among the first 146,313 applicants, 33 counties that are home to between 500 and 999 applicants, and 21 counties that are home to more than 1,000. Indeed, the finer-grained the data are, the more leverage we have in identifying DACA renewal “hotspots.”

I note here that complementing this analysis with analysis of where large numbers of estimated DACA-eligible youth have yet to apply at the county- or city-level would add much needed depth to our understanding of the program. However, data limitations currently do not permit this. I refer readers to Wong et al. (2013), which identifies the under-representation of DACA-eligible youth at the state level.

Results

This report identifies and maps DACA renewal “hotspots” across the country. This includes:

1. A map of DACA applications by county for all counties in the U.S. (see Figure 1).

2. County-level maps for California, Texas, New York, Florida, and New Jersey, which represent the top 5 states of residence for DACA applicants during the initial months of the program (Illinois has since supplanted New Jersey in the top 5; see Figures 2 to 6).

3. Zip-code level maps for the Los Angeles metropolitan area, the New York metropolitan area, the greater Houston area, the greater Chicago area, and the Riverside-San Bernardino metropolitan area. These places represent the top 5 metropolitan areas of residence for DACA applicants during the initial months of the program (see Figures 7 to 11).

 

 

Figure 1: Number of DACA Applicants by County for All Counties, 8/15/12 – 9/30/12
map1

Contact author for tabulations

 

 

Figure 2: DACA Applications by County, California (37,797 applications), 8/15/12 - 9/30/12

map2

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 3: DACA Applications by County, Texas (22,330 applications), 8/15/12 – 9/30/12

map3

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 4: DACA Applications by County, New York (11,570 applications), 8/15/12 -9/30/12

map4

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 5: DACA Applications by County, Florida (9,049 applications), 8/15/12 – 9/30/12

florida

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 6: DACA Applications by County, New Jersey (6,484 applications), 8/15/12 - 9/30/12

 newjersey

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 7: DACA Applications by Zip Code, Greater Los Angeles Area

greaterla

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 8: DACA Applications by Zip Code, New York Metro Area

nynj

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 9: DACA Applications by Zip Code, Greater Houston Area

houston

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 10: DACA Applications by Zip Code, Greater Chicago Area

Chicago

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

Figure 11: DACA Applications by Zip Code, Riverside-San Bernardino MSA

riverside

Contact author for county-by-county and zip code breakdown

 

 

 

Fifth Annual University of California Conference on International Migration

Fifth Annual University of California Conference on International Migration:
Immigrant Integration in Comparative Perspective

January 31 – February 1, 2014

Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, UC San Diego

To be held at the Great Hall

Agenda

Co-sponsored by the  Center for Research on Immigration, Population and Public Policy (UC Irvine) & Program on International Migration (UCLA)

With the participation of the Gifford Center for Population Studies (UC Davis) and Division of Social Sciences (UC Santa Cruz)

CCIS Fall Seminar – American Values: Migrants, Money and Meaning

Seminar to be held on Wednesday, December 4th in ERC 115. Event begins at 12:00PM.

Author Meets Critics: Join David Pedersen, Beatriz Cortez and David Gutierrez as they discuss Mr. Pedersen’s book American Value: Migrants, Money and Meaning in El Salvador and the United States.

El Salvador has transformed dramatically over the past half-century. Historically reliant on cash crops like coffee and cotton, the country emerged from a civil war in 1992 to find much of its national wealth coming from money sent home by a massive emigrant workforce in the United States.  In American Value, David Pedersen examines this new way of life across two places: Intipucá in El Salvador and Washington, DC in the USA.  Drawing on Charles S. Pierce to craft a highly innovative semiotic of value, he critically explains how the apparent worthiness of migrants and their money is shaping a transnational moral world with implications well beyond El Salvador and the USA.

David PedersonDavid Pedersen

Associate Professor of Anthropology – UCSD

w/ Beatriz Cortez, Professor of Central American Studies – CSUN

& David Gutierrez, Professor of History – UCSD

REPORT NOW AVAILABLE: Understanding Change in Science & Engineering – July 12 & 13 Workshop

CCISBuilding the Innovation Economy? The Challenges of Defining, Creating and Maintaining the STEM Workforce: 

For several years, policymakers in Washington, academic and other experts, and industry leaders have emphasized the importance of the so-called “STEM” fields—science, technology, engineering and math—for economic growth, national competitiveness and security, and job creation. Yet we still know little about how this crucial sector of the economy works, and in particular, why industry demands ever more foreign workers even as many US workers are leaving this vibrant sector, and how US workers keep their skill sets current in the face of continual change. Most broadly, we need to understand what STEM actually means. It is a term that is used widely, and even forms the basis of legislation, yet it resists a clear definition.

These are some major conclusions from a workshop held at the University of California-San Diego on July 12 and 13, 2013. The workshop, sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, brought together academic specialists from fields as diverse as economics, education, management, public policy, and sociology to meet with industry leaders representing biotech, finance, software, telecommunications, and tech journalism, for a results-oriented and wide-ranging discussion of these important issues. Several key conclusions, as well as related readings by workshop participants, are included.

Download here: CCIS.BuildingTheInnovationEconomy

Can GOP Keep House in 2014 Without Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., tomkwong@ucsd.edu, @twong002

As Republicans prepare to meet to discuss how immigration reform will proceed in the House, Speaker John Boehner has maintained that he will adhere to the Hastert rule when it comes to immigration – in other words, he will not support any piece of legislation that does not have majority support among Republican representatives.

Much of this Republican caucus will involve discussions between House Republican leadership and the Republican rank-and-file over how immigration reform fits into the party’s short-term and long-term political prospects. Here, Republicans are at odds. On the one hand, Republican leadership will undoubtedly have an eye towards the future viability of the Republican brand – this includes the ability of Republicans to compete in national elections. On the other hand, many of the Republican rank-and-file may have an eye towards their own short-term electoral survival. Whereas the former may mean supporting comprehensive immigration reform, the latter may lead some within the Republican rank-and-file to oppose it.

For Republican leadership with an eye towards the viability of the party one of the most immediate concerns may be holding onto Republican control of the House in 2014. There are currently 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats in the House. This means that a Republican loss/Democratic gain of 17 seats will shift the balance of power. When viewed from this perspective the question that leadership should be asking, irrespective of the Hastert rule, is will opposition to immigration reform cost 17 seats in 2014?

To start, there are 33 Republican representatives who are expected to oppose an S.744-type of immigration reform bill, but who are electorally vulnerable headed into 2014. Taking a closer look at these 33 representatives, 18 are in competitive/swing districts. A Republican loss/Democratic gain of these 18 seats, all else equal (I know, all is rarely equal) means a Democratically-controlled House in 2014.

In comparing the districts of these 18 representatives with the districts of Republicans who are not electorally vulnerable and are in safe red districts, clear demographic differences emerge that magnify the salience and importance of supporting immigration reform.

First, we see that the Asian percentage of the total population is 2.2 times higher in these 18 districts than it is in safer Republican districts. This difference, 6.2% versus 2.8%, is highly statistically significant – in other words, the difference is not due to chance. We also see that the Hispanic/Latino percentage of the total population is 1.5 times higher. This difference, 14.6% versus 10.1%, is also statistically significant.

Electoral competition does not occur in a vacuum and, as some Republicans have suggested, increased outreach to white voters may attenuate the electoral effects of demographic change. However, when viewed from a different lens, we see even more striking differences. The average number of young Hispanics/Latinos and Asians who will come of voting age in 2014 is 1.7 times higher in these 18 districts than it is in safer Republican districts. This difference, 10,464 versus 6,171, is highly statistically significant. This trend continues when looking at the young Hispanic/Latino and Asian population who will come of voting age in 2016.

In fact, 6 representatives will see their total 2012 margin of victory eclipsed by the number of young Hispanics/Latinos and Asians who turn 18 in 2014.

In addition, 1 representative’s 2012 margin of victory will be eclipsed by the number of young Hispanics/Latinos and Asians who turn 18 in 2016 and 4 more representatives have young Hispanic/Latino and Asians populations that place their long-term electoral survival in doubtI note here that there are other Republicans who face similar outlooks, such as Representative David Valadao (CA-21). However, Valadao has expressed support for immigration reform.

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 4.07.07 PM

Another group of Republican representatives is also worth mentioning. There are 10 representatives who are in traditionally safe Republican districts, but are electorally vulnerable and represent districts that are rapidly changing demographically.

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 4.06.25 PM

It is yet unclear how Republicans will proceed on immigration. However, it seems clear that the approach that Republicans take and, perhaps more importantly, whether they are perceived as working towards or standing in the way of reform, will have serious implications in the districts identified above.  

Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is an expert on immigration politics and policy. He is a research associate at CCIS and beginning in fall 2013 he will be Director of the International Migration Studies Program at UC San Diego.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the House: Will the SAFE Act Pass?

By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., tomkwong@ucsd.edu, @twong002

After the Senate passed S.744 attention shifted immediately to the House. While an upcoming July 10th conference wherein Republican representatives are set to gather to discuss immigration will provide greater clarity in terms of what we can expect in the weeks ahead, Speaker of the House John Boehner has already indicated that he will adhere to the Hastert rule when it comes to immigration reform. What this means is that we are unlikely to see S.744 debated and then voted on in the House. Rather, we are likely to see stand-alone immigration bills introduced, debated, and then voted on, one by one (e.g., the piecemeal approach).

While a House vote on S.744 or an equivalent comprehensive immigration reform package is still possible, the next series of posts in the CIR 2013 Blog will focus on simulating vote outcomes for the major stand-alone bills that are already working their way through the House, beginning with the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act or SAFE Act.

The SAFE Act focuses on interior immigration enforcement. While Title III of S.744 also focuses on interior immigration enforcement, the SAFE Act is distinct. First, the SAFE Act would make being undocumented, more specifically, “being unlawfully present in the United States,” a federal crime. It is already a federal crime to enter the U.S. without authorization. The SAFE Act would thus add the act of living (without authorization) to this list. The bill also provides states and localities “specific congressional authorization to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law and includes provisions to facilitate their assistance.” Moreover, as described by the House Judiciary Committee, it allows states and localities to enact and enforce their own immigration laws, which speaks directly to state-level immigration policies such as Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56.

The SAFE Act carries many of the hallmarks of H.R. 4437 – the restrictive immigration enforcement bill passed in the House in 2005, which sparked nationwide protests in 2006. For example section 203 of H.R. 4437 also made unlawful presence a crime and section 220, among other sections, also affirmed the authority of states and localities to assist in enforcing federal immigration laws.

While proponents of the SAFE Act see tougher interior immigration enforcement as an essential component of immigration reform, critics oppose it as an overly punitive measure. The SAFE Act is thus sure to be a lightning rod of controversy as the immigration debate moves forward in the House.

Will the SAFE Act pass in the House?

The answer is yes and no. Congressional efforts to tighten interior immigration enforcement did not end with H.R. 4437. Year after year, legislation has been introduced that either affirms the authority of localities to enforce federal immigration laws or facilitates and enhances it. These distinctions are meaningful, as the varying degrees of restrictiveness in interior immigration enforcement have led to markedly different vote outcomes.

Thus the conclusion is that the SAFE Act will likely pass, but if it is amended so that the bill includes stricter and even more punitive enforcement provisions it will not.

The following provides two examples.

SAFE Act “Lite”

An analysis of 2,067 roll call votes that speak to local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration officials (e.g., “affirms the inherent authority of,” prohibits federal funds for sanctuary cities) shows passage. Analyzing these past votes and then simulating a vote for current House representatives shows 233 “solid yes” votes. An additional 9 representatives are categorized as “lean yes.” This gives us a range of 233 to 242 potential “yes” votes. Among these, 232 are Republicans and 10 are Democrats. Contact author for full list.

SAFE Act

However, during the 2005 debate over H.R. 4437 an amendment was introduced and voted on (the Sullivan amendment) that moved interior immigration enforcement further to the right along a permissive/restrictive spectrum. This amendment not only sought to affirm the authority of localities to enforce immigration laws, but it also facilitated and enhanced their ability to do so via changes to immigration detention (see section 240D of the amendment; in short, all apprehended undocumented immigrants, with some exceptions, would be held in immigration detention). Surprisingly, the Sullivan amendment was criticized by Republican Representative Jim Sensenbrenner as being “unworkable” given it would lead to overcrowding of immigration detention centers and thus “all of a sudden, there are going to be criminal aliens that are going to be either released on the street or not being put in detention simply because there are not the slots that are available” (see Sullivan amendment link for text from Congressional record). He also voiced practical concerns about infrastructure and costs.

The amendment would have also changed the landscape of interior immigration enforcement by expanding the practice of expedited removal nationwide. Expedited removal gives the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the authority to remove (deport) undocumented immigrants without the oversight of an immigration judge. Currently limited to border regions, the Sullivan amendment would have extended this practice to all parts of the country, wherever undocumented immigrants where apprehended. Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee criticized this aspect of the amendment for clearly violating civil liberties and rights of due process.

Analyzing the Sullivan amendment and then simulating a vote for current House representatives shows 193 “solid yes” votes. An additional 15 representatives are categorized as “lean yes” – 9 Republicans and 6 Democrats. This gives us a range of 193 to 208 potential “yes” votes. 32 Republicans are categorized as “lean no.” Contact author for full list.

Conclusion

If the SAFE Act simply affirmed the authority of localities to enforce federal immigration laws and withheld federal funds from sanctuary cities, the results show passage by a healthy margin with 233 to 242 “yes” votes. However, the SAFE Act goes further than this – it is yet unclear how far it will go. If what the SAFE Act ultimately becomes is analogous to the Sullivan amendment, then the results show no passage with only 193 to 208 “yes” votes.

To be clear, the contrast I make here between the “SAFE Act Lite” and the Sullivan amendment represent two very different positions along the interior immigration enforcement spectrum. However, this is instructive in that it shows that moderate reforms to interior immigration enforcement can attract bipartisan support, whereas more extreme reforms are likely to attract broader bipartisan opposition. This broader opposition, as the Sullivan amendment shows, can not align across claims to civil liberties and rights of due process, but also on “workability,” meaning the practicality and costs associated with significant changes to interior immigration enforcement. I should note here that what constitutes “extreme” is a major wildcard. If representatives today have a softer view of extreme than they did in 2005, then we can expect more support for interior enforcement measures such as those included in the Sullivan amendment (and vice versa).

As the SAFE Act moves closer to final passage and the details of the bill become clearer, I will update this analysis. 

Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is an expert on immigration politics and policy. He is a research associate at CCIS and beginning in fall 2013 he will be Director of the International Migration Studies Program at UC San Diego.

Will Comprehensive Immigration Reform Pass in the Senate? An Update

By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., tomkwong@ucsd.edu, @twong002

This week marks a critical test for comprehensive immigration reform. In advance of a scheduled vote on the bill, I revisit the initial predictions I made for the Senate in March. Scroll down for the results.

The Senate bill has largely remained in tact – mostly due to the absence of floor votes on a number of significant amendments. However, there have been some major developments. First, several efforts to use border triggers to prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining legal status have been defeated. Second, the Corker-Hoeven amendment to significantly bolster border security via a combination of increased personnel, fencing, technology, and other resources is likely to be voted on (and passed) this week.

I thus update my previous analyses by a) factoring in recent roll call votes on border trigger amendments – the Grassley, Thune, Paul, and Cornyn amendments – and b) past voting on border security measures that mirror the Corker-Hoeven amendment.

Republicans to Watch

Altogether, Republicans that are likely to support the bill are:

Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Jeff Flake (Arizona), John McCain (Arizona), Marco Rubio (Florida), Mark Kirk (Illinois), Susan Collins (Maine), Dean Heller (Nevada), Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire), Jeffrey Chiesa (New Jersey), John Hoeven (North Dakota), Rob Portman (Ohio), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Bob Corker (Tennessee), Orrin Hatch (Utah), and Ron Johnson (Wisconsin).

In March, in addition to the 4 Republican members of the “gang of 8,” my models pegged the following Republicans as “solid yes” votes: Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mark Kirk (Illinois), Dean Heller (NV), and Patrick Toomey (Pennsylvania). All but Patrick Toomey are still predicted as “yes” votes. Moreover, my models also pegged some Republicans who have publicly expressed support for the Senate bill as “lean yes/no” votes (i.e., confidence intervals around their respective predicted probabilities intersect 0.5). These are: Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire), John Hoeven (North Dakota), and Orrin Hatch (Utah) – it would be awesome if I could also claim Bob Corker (Tennessee) on this list, but, alas, no.

While the recent votes on the border trigger amendments add some clarity to the predictions – mostly by reclassifying those as leaning one way or another into solid yes or no votes – there are some Republicans who remain in the “lean yes” category: Susan Collins (Maine), Rob Portman (Ohio), and Ron Johnson (Wisconsin). Note: Jeffrey Chiesa (New Jersey) is also predicted as a “lean yes” vote.

It is interesting to note that some of the most vocal opponents of the Senate bill – including John Cornyn (Texas), Ted Cruz (Texas), and Mike Lee (Utah) – are predicted as “lean no” rather than “solid no” votes in the updated analysis. Of course, I do not think that these are really swing votes. However, they are categorized as such given the large foreign-born populations in their respective states and the increased border security measures in the bill. It will thus be interesting to follow how a “no” vote by these Senators translates with voters during their next elections.

Democrats to Watch

In factoring in the border trigger votes, only 1 Democrat stands out as a potential “lean no” vote: Mark Pryor (Arkansas). Note: there are no Democrats predicted as “solid no” votes. In March, my models characterized Senator Pryor as a “lean yes” vote. However, he recently voted against tabling the Grassley and Cornyn amendments. It is also worth noting that while he is predicted as a “solid yes” vote, Joe Manchin (West Virginia) is another Democrat who voted against tabling the Grassley and Cornyn amendments.

Conclusion

There are 62 Senators predicted as “solid yes” votes, 6 who “lean yes,” 11 who “lean no,” and 21 predicted as “solid no” votes. A full list is available here. Assuming that all who are predicted as “solid yes” or “lean yes” actually vote yes, we have 68 votes for the bill. Assuming that Mark Pryor joins the “yes” votes, this leads to a total of 69 votes for the bill. As the confidence intervals around the predicted probabilities of the “lean no” votes intersect 0.5, after excluding Senators Cornyn, Cruz, and Lee, we can reasonably suspect an upper limit of 76 yes votes, though this would be a real far reach.

In March, the data pointed to 67 to 71 yes votes on CIR. Today, after factoring in the border trigger votes and the increased border security measures, the data point to 69 to 76 yes votes. For those who argue that stricter border security measures are necessary for increasing support for the bill, there is some support for this (moving from an upper limit of 71 to 76). However, for others who argue that stricter border security is unnecessary for securing a filibuster-proof vote, there is also support for this (the needle was already at 67 and moved only to 69).

Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is an expert on immigration politics and policy. He is a research associate at CCIS and beginning in fall 2013 he will be Director of the International Migration Studies Program at UC San Diego.

A Test of the CIR 2013 Blog: The 287(g) Vote

By Tom K. Wong, tomkwong@ucsd.edu, @twong002

While we are still far from a vote on final passage of the comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill in the Senate, a vote yesterday in the House provides an early test of the models and predictions of the CIR 2013 Blog.

Yesterday, the House voted on an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriation bill that was introduced by Democratic Representative Jared Polis (CO-2). The amendment was related to the controversial 287(g) program, which promotes local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration officials. Last week, I was asked to help count votes for and against the amendment.

1

The model predicted up to 185 yes votes on the Polis amendment. The actual votes was 180, which means that the model performed within 97% of the actual vote.

Taking a look at the actual roll call, we see that the model correctly predicted 94% of the actual votes cast – nearly 400 representatives were correctly predicted out of the 425 who voted.

92.3% of those predicted as “solid yes” votes actually voted yes. 92.3% of those predicted as “lean yes” votes actually voted yes. And 99.6% of those predicted as “solid no” votes actually voted no (Michelle Bachman was the lone “solid no” vote who voted yes). The model performed the worst with the “lean no” category. Only 31.5% of those who were predicted as “lean no” votes actually voted no.

Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is an expert on immigration politics and policy. He is a research associate at CCIS and beginning in fall 2013 he will be Director of the International Migration Studies Program at UC San Diego.

Does Legalization Encourage Unauthorized Immigration?

By Hillary Kosnac, hkosnac@ucsd.edu, and Tom K. Wong, tomkwong@ucsd.edu, @twong002

Chances that 2013 will bring a comprehensive immigration reform bill (CIR) that includes a path to citizenship increased recently after the bipartisan Senate “gang of 8’s” bill was voted out of committee (and largely in tact after some 300 amendments were considered). However, the optimism surrounding the bill was quickly tempered as the House Judiciary Committee (HJC) held a hearing in which the legalization of undocumented immigrants and an eventual path to citizenship were sharply questioned.

These questions renewed debate over whether legalization (or even just talk of legalization) leads to more unauthorized immigration, particularly from Mexico. In response to Republican Representative Louie Gohmert’s (TX-1) claim during the HJC hearing that talk of legalization leads to a “dramatic uptick in people coming across the border illegally,” an expert witness stated, “every time that we talk about some sort of immigration reform, especially when there are still questions out there, there is some kind of increase.” This witness, however, concluded his answer by stating “can’t give you what that increase is, I don’t know.”

Given legalization and a path to citizenship are at the core of immigration reform efforts on the one hand and concerns about the “moral hazard” of legalization – i.e., the fear that legalization now will encourage more unauthorized immigration down the road – generate intense opposition to reform efforts on the other, it is critical to provide better answers than “I don’t know.”

While there has yet to be a silver bullet one way or another, there is a way to empirically evaluate whether (prospective) legalization encourages more unauthorized immigration. Since 2005, the Mexican Migration Field Research Program (MMFRP) housed at the University of California, San Diego has conducted thousands of interviews with prospective migrants in Mexico. During the last push for immigration reform in 2006 and 2007, the MMFRP surveyed nearly 900 persons. Questions participants were asked included whether they had an intent to immigrate to the U.S., if yes, the reason for wanting to immigrate, as well as questions about what they knew about the details of the proposed CIR bill.

One way that we could observe whether a moral hazard related to legalization exists is if respondents who expressed an intent to immigrate cited “amnesty” as their primary motivation. Another way that we could observe moral hazard is if those who knew about the legalization component of the proposed CIR bill were more likely to express an intent to immigrate than those who did not know about the legalization. We take each of these possibilities in turn.

Is “Amnesty” a Motivating Factor?

The 2007 MMFRP included 861 respondents 236 of these were either born in the U.S. or were legal permanent residents. The remaining 625 respondents comprise a pool of prospective undocumented immigrants. Among these 625 people, only 130 or 23.7% stated that they intended to immigrate to the U.S. (419 did not intend to immigrate and 76 did not respond). For those that expressed an intent to immigrate, a follow up question was asked regarding their reasons for wanting to come to the U.S. “Amnesty” was one option among over a dozen potential reasons. Of all of the respondents who expressed an intent to immigrate, zero stated amnesty as one of their primary reasons for wanting to come to the U.S.

It is important to note here that social desirability bias may be at play. This refers to respondents answering survey questions in ways that fit what they think the person asking the questions wants to hear (or in ways that may be viewed favorably by others), instead of in ways that reflect how the respondent truly thinks and feels. We thus take one step further.

Does Knowing About Legalization Promote Unauthorized Immigration?

The MMFRP also allows us to examine what prospective immigrants in Mexico knew about the proposed CIR bill – including legalization. If knowing about legalization leads to an increase in unauthorized immigration, we would expect that a large majority of respondents who knew about the proposed legalization would want to immigrate. The data do not show this. In fact, just 21.1% (16 out of 76) of those who knew about the legalization expressed an intent to immigrate. This means that 78.9% of prospective undocumented immigrants who knew about the proposed legalization had no intention of leaving Mexico.

We can also view this from a slightly different perspective. If talk of legalization is enough to cause an uptick in unauthorized immigration, then there should be an observable statistically significant difference in the intent to immigrate between those who know about legalization and those who do not. Again, the data do not support this. Surprisingly, not only is there no statistically significant difference between these two groups, but those who did not know about the legalization were slightly more likely to express an intent to immigrate than those who did. As indicated above, while 21.1% of those who knew about the proposed legalization wanted to immigrate, 24.1% (114 out of 473) who did not know about it expressed an intent to leave Mexico.

The 2013 MMFRP

Preliminary analysis of the 2013 MMFRP (n = 610) provides a window into the question of moral hazard in the context of the current immigration reform debate. While the 2013 MMFRP also asks the question of intent to immigrate, it does so for only a subset of respondents. As a result, only 75 prospective undocumented immigrants were asked whether they had an intent to immigrate. Moreover, unlike the 2007 MMFRP, the 2013 survey did not ask the follow up question of “why.” However, it did ask, “Do you think there’s going to be an amnesty in the US in the next 4 years.”

Again, if hopes of legalization were enough to encourage more unauthorized immigration, we would expect those who responded yes to the “amnesty” question to want to immigrate more so than those who responded no. The data do not support this. Just 26.7% (12 out of 45) of prospective undocumented immigrants who thought there was going to be “amnesty” in the next 4 years expressed an intent to immigrate, which means that 73.3% had no intention of leaving. There is also no statistically significant difference in the intent to immigrate between those who think there will be “amnesty” and those who do not. While 26.7% of those who think there will be “amnesty” wanted to immigrate, 31.8% (7 out of 22) who did not think so expressed an intent to leave Mexico for the U.S.

Inconclusive, but Better than “I Don’t Know”

To be sure, the analysis here does not provide a definitive answer to the question of moral hazard – however, while the evidence is inconclusive and more analysis is needed, these results provide cause to challenge the assertion that simply talking about legalization prompts a dramatic uptick in unauthorized immigration.

In both 2007 and 2013, the large majority of prospective undocumented immigrants with knowledge or optimism regarding “amnesty” expressed no intent to leave Mexico. Additionally we found no statistically significant difference in the intent to immigrate between those who have knowledge or optimism of “amnesty” and those who do not. While the MMFRP datasets provide a way to empirically examine the question of moral hazard as it relates to legalization, limitations do exist. One limitation is the generalizability of the findings. Each year the MMFRP conducts its research in one of three Mexican sending communities: Tlacuitapa, Jalisco, Tunkás, Yucatán, and San Miguel Tlacotepec, Oaxaca. It would thus be a stretch to say that the surveys are representative of the Mexican population as a whole – and we do not claim that it is. However, given the politically sensitive nature of claims that unauthorized immigration will increase as a result of legalization (or just talk of it), we cannot rely on answers of “I don’t know.” Does legalization encourage more unauthorized immigration? This analysis suggests no, but more research is needed.

Hillary Kosnac is a graduate student at UC San Diego. Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is an expert on immigration politics and policy. He is a research associate at CCIS and beginning in fall 2013 he will be Director of the International Migration Studies Program at UC San Diego.