Willing Workers: Fixing the Problem of Illegal Mexican Migration to the United States

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Today an estimated eight million or more people live in theUnited States without legal documents, and each year the numbergrows by an estimated 250,000 as more immigrants enter illegally oroverstay their visas. More than half of those entering and alreadyhere come from Mexico.

Although the U.S. government has encouraged closer trade,investment, and political ties with Mexico, it has labored in vainto keep a lid on the flow of labor across the border. Since 1986,the numbers of tax dollars appropriated and agents assigned forborder control have risen dramatically, yet by any real measure ofresults, the effort to constrict illegal immigration hasfailed.

Demand for low‐​skilled labor continues to grow in the UnitedStates while the domestic supply of suitable workers inexorablydeclines — yet U.S. immigration law contains virtually no legalchannel through which low‐​skilled immigrant workers can enter thecountry to fill that gap. The result is an illegal flow of workerscharacterized by more permanent and less circular migration,smuggling, document fraud, deaths at the border, artificiallydepressed wages, and threats to civil liberties.

Legalizing Mexican migration would, in one stroke, bring a hugeunderground market into the open. It would allow American producersin important sectors of our economy to hire the workers they needto grow. It would raise wages and working conditions for millionsof low‐​skilled workers and spur investment in human capital. Itwould free resources and personnel for the war on terrorism.

Contrary to common objections, evidence does not suggest that aproperly designed system of legal Mexican migration will unleash aflood of new immigrants to the United States, hurt low‐​skilledAmericans, burden taxpayers, create an unassimilated underclass,encourage lawbreaking, or compromise border security.

President Bush and leaders of both parties in Congress shouldreturn to the task of turning America’s dysfunctional immigrationsystem into one that is economically rational, humane, andcompatible with how Americans actually arrange their lives.

Daniel Griswold

Daniel Griswold is associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies.