Changing Population: Migration, Reproduction and Identity: June 3-5, 2014

University of Trento, June 3-5, 2014

Changing Population: Migration, Reproduction and Identity

The social sciences have long debated the use of racial, ethnic and national categories in analyzing processes of collective identity construction. Anthropology and Sociology have both contributed to uncovering the implicit essentialism underlying the racial and cultural definitions of difference conventionally used to identify, subdivide and classify human populations. At the same time, contemporary processes of social and cultural interconnection, fueled by intense global mobility, are challenging, bridging and overturning institutional boundaries of identity and belonging. National citizenship categories in particular have become increasingly limiting and constrictive in relation to the wide variety of reproductive practices individuals enact transnationally. Issues such as the family basis of migration, the fertility and birthrates of migrants and ethnic minorities, the rise in mixed marriages, the transnational spread of familial and kinship networks and the access to citizenship for “second-generations” are only the most visible signs of a deeply rooted change, which impacts the composition and shape of national populations and triggers new citizenship claims.

Faced with these processes, dominant demographic discourse has adopted ethno-racial classifications and slipped easily into a rhetoric of danger: the danger of invasion, extinction, poverty and cultural disintegration. Still lacking or underdeveloped is a primarily social analysis of the demographic developments at play that draws on socio-anthropological research in order to problematize the demographic construction of minorities, in opposition to national demography; and, at the same time, that explores how individuals and communities ensure their own biological, social and cultural continuity despite and across ethno-national boundaries.

This conference aims to establish a space for international and interdisciplinary dialogue on contemporary socio-demographic shifts. We propose to focus in particular on the biopolitics of reproduction put in motion by both national governments, as they distinguish between citizens and non-citizens, and migrants and their descendents, as they affirm, negotiate or refrain from constructing their own definitions of family, kinship, genealogy and belonging.

In this perspective, which primarily addresses the intersection of reproduction and identity in relation to migrants and multicultural contexts, we invite papers exploring the following issues:

– The analytical categories and classifications employed in research on population, namely ethnicity, race, nation, culture and group;

– Demographic politics and systems for defining national populations;

– Family reunification and the ethno-national bases of welfare systems;

– The marriage practices, reproductive behavior and social genealogies of migrants and their descendents;

– Family planning policies and fertility management among migrants and minorities;

– Notions of identity and continuity in transnational migration.


The conference is organised by the SMMS Research Unit (Migration Scenarios and Social Change), Department of Sociology and Social Research, University of Trento.

Confirmed keynote speakers include David Kertzer and Pnina Werbner.

Abstracts (300 words), containing a description of the main argument, the key question(s) driving the paper and the kind of evidence analysed, should be sent by 20 February 2014 to the following address: For further information please contact the conference coordinators, Francesca Decimo [] Alessandra Gribaldo [] and Paolo Boccagni [].

Acceptance will be notified by 28th of February 2014. Full papers (5-8.000 words) are expected by 30th April 2014.

Migration Research Unit Student Conference 2014

Child & Youth Migrants: Global And Interdisciplinary Perspectives
University College London, 14 June 2014

Please submit applications with a title, 1 page abstract, and CV to: no later than 1 March 2014. Presentations will be about 20 minutes long. If you will require a visa to attend the conference, please consider submitting your application before the deadline to ensure you have enough time to apply for your visa.

For more information, please visit the conference website:


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Challenge to the Secular State: The Christian Right in America -Thursday, Jan. 30th

The UCSD Department of Sociology Yankelovich Endowed Chair Speaker Series presents:

“Challenge to the Secular State: The Christian Right in America”

w/ Professor Christian Joppke

 Thursday, January 30, 2014


Institute of the Americas- Deutz room

with reception immediately following

Professor Christian Joppke

University of Bern

Christian Joppke is a comparative political sociologist. His past and present research interests cover social movements and the state, citizenship and immigration, most recently religion and politics, especially Islam in Western societies. Professor Joppke holds a chair in sociology at the University of Bern, Switzerland.  He received a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1989. Previously he taught at the University of Southern California, European University Institute, University of British Columbia, International University Bremen, and American University of Paris. He has also held research fellowships at Georgetown University and the Russell Sage Foundation, New York. Among his recent books are Citizenship and Immigration (Cambridge: Polity, 2010), Veil: Mirror of Identity (Cambridge: Polity, 2009), and Selecting by Origin: Ethnic Migration in the Liberal State (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005).

For Directions to the Institute of Americas see map.

For further information, please contact Katrina Richards at or (858) 534-2779

 The Yankelovich Speaker Series is envisioned by Daniel Yankelovich, a Division of Social Sciences benefactor and sponsor of the Endowed Chair on Social Thought.


Call for Papers: 3rd Seminar of Studies on Brazilian Migration in Europe

The Seminar on the Studies of Brazilian Migration in Europe has had two previous editions. The first one was in Spain in 2010 and then in Portugal in 2012. It is a biennial event which will have its third edition at the Institute of Education – University of London. This 2014 edition has been brought to the UK via the work being developed by GEB, the Brazilian Migration to the UK Research Group.

The 3rd Seminar of Studies on Brazilian Migration in Europe invites proposals for presentations (oral and posters) in Portuguese, Spanish and English on any aspect of research on migration.

Topics may include:
Business, cultural practices, discrimination, diversity, education, family, gender, health, identity(ies), media, migration flows, political representation, religion, return, sexuality, social networks, urban space, among others.

Abstract should be no longer than 300 words maximum and can be in Portuguese, Spanish or English.

Format: Title, Name, Affiliation, Type of presentation (Oral or Poster), Topic contribution and Abstract (Times New Roman, font size 12, 1.5 Space)

Important Dates:

14th February 2014 – Abstract Submission Deadline
28th February 2014 – Results (will be informed via e-mail)

Please send your Abstract to:

Please note that in order to have the abstract published and the presentation included in the programme, registrations must be made no later than 7th March 2014.

For further information please visit:

PhD Partnership in Global Social Protection Transnational Studies Initiative – Harvard University

Starting in January 2014, TSI will host one or two PhD or post-doctoral students working on related topics who would like to partner with us on this intellectual journey. These individuals will work with Professors Levitt and Viterna on developing these ideas, participate in all TSI activities, and be welcome to take part in all open University seminars and public conferences. Please download the announcement for details.

Can GOP Keep House in 2014 Without Comprehensive Immigration Reform?

By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D.,, @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.

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.

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.,, @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.


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.


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.,, @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.


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,, @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.

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,, and Tom K. Wong,, @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.