Illegal Immigration, Border Enforcement, and Relative Wages: Evidence from Apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico Border

41 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 1996 Last revised: 2 Apr 2003

See all articles by Gordon H. Hanson

Gordon H. Hanson

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IRPS); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Antonio Spilimbergo

International Monetary Fund (IMF) - Research Department; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - The William Davidson Institute

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: May 1996

Abstract

We examine illegal immigration in the United States from Mexico over the period 1976-1995. One challenge is that we do not observe the number of individuals that attempt to enter the United States illegally; we only observe the number of individuals apprehended attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Based on a simple migration model, we postulate the existence of an apprehensions function, which expresses apprehensions at the border as a function of illegal attempts to cross the border and U.S. border-enforcement effort. We estimate a reduced-form apprehensions function using monthly data on apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border, person hours the U.S. Border Patrol spends policing the border, and wages in the United States and Mexico. We find that a 10% decrease in the Mexican real wage leads to a 7.5% to 8.8% increase in apprehensions at the border. Under plausible conditions this is a lower bound for the effect of the Mexican wage on attempted illegal immigration. It is the purchasing power of U.S. wages in Mexico, not the purchasing power of U.S. wages in the United States, that matters for border apprehensions, suggesting that migrants expect to maintain ties with Mexico. Border apprehensions are higher in the month following a large devaluation of the peso and higher when the change in the Mexican real wage is negative. Each additional hour the U.S. Border Patrol spends policing the border yields an additional 0.25 to 0.33 apprehensions.

Suggested Citation

Hanson, Gordon H. and Spilimbergo, Antonio, Illegal Immigration, Border Enforcement, and Relative Wages: Evidence from Apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico Border (May 1996). NBER Working Paper No. w5592. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=41132

Gordon H. Hanson (Contact Author)

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IRPS) ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0519
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Antonio Spilimbergo

International Monetary Fund (IMF) - Research Department ( email )

700 19th Street NW
Washington, DC 20431
United States
202-623-6346 (Phone)
202-623-6336 (Fax)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - The William Davidson Institute ( email )

724 E. University Ave.
Wyly Hall
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1234
United States

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