Managing Illegal Immigration to the United States

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U.S. Border Patrol surveys the border fence near rancher John Ladd's property adjacent to the Arizona-Mexico border near Naco, Arizona, March 29, 2013 (Samantha Sais/Courtesy Reuters).

U.S. Border Patrol surveys the border fence near rancher John Ladd’s property adjacent to the Arizona-Mexico border near Naco, Arizona, March 29, 2013 (Samantha Sais/Courtesy Reuters).

As Senate immigration negotiations continue, the Council on Foreign Relations has just released a report on the effectiveness of U.S. immigration enforcement. The authors, Bryan Roberts (a senior economist at Econometrica, Inc), John Whitely (an economist focusing on resource allocation), and my colleague Edward Alden, detail the dramatic surge in border security “inputs”—personnel and money—outlining the sharp increases in the number of border patrol agents and the amount of their budgets. But the report highlights the lack of government data on “outputs” (i.e., the results of each program) and “outcomes” (how successful or unsuccessful each policy was in reducing illegal immigration).

This data gap hinders America’s ability to understand and measure the effects of an added dollar or border patrol agent, and as a result limits the ability to improve enforcement policies. Going forward, the report urges Congress to fill this vacuum, and also calls for designing models to predict illegal immigration flows, and for strengthening congressional oversight on enforcement policies (by holding quarterly hearings for relevant Senate and House committees). By collecting and disseminating information on how well specific enforcement policies worked (or did not work), scholars and policymakers would hopefully not only be better informed, but better equipped to manage illegal immigration.

It is well worth a read, and you can find the full report here.

Published in conjunction with Latin America’s Moment at the Council on Foreign Relations.