Sunday, August 11, 2013

Everything you know about immigration is wrong

Ezra Klein explains how Everything you know about immigration is wrong. It begins with a nice history that I didn't really know about...

Massey slices the history of Mexico-to-U.S. migration in five periods. Early in the 20th century, there was the era of “the hook,” when Japan stopped sending workers to the U.S. and the mining, agriculture and railroad industries begged Mexican laborers to replace them. It’s called “the hook” because laborers were recruited with promises of high wages, signing bonuses, transportation and lodging, most of which either never materialized or were deducted from their paychecks.

Then, during the Roaring Twenties, came “flood tide” — almost 650,000 Mexican workers came legally, causing the number of Mexicans in the U.S. to rocket to almost 750,000 in 1929 from 100,000 in 1900.

The Great Depression ended all that. Jobless Americans took out their anger on jobless Mexicans, and thus began the “era of deportations.” From 1929 to 1939, 469,000 Mexicans were expelled from the U.S.; by 1940, the Mexican-born population had fallen to 377,000.

Enter World War II. With so many American men fighting overseas, Mexican labor was once again in high demand. The U.S. and Mexico negotiated the Bracero Program, which gave Mexican workers access to temporary U.S. visas. That kicked off the “Bracero era.” In 1945, the program brought in 50,000 Mexican guest workers. By 1956, it was up to 445,000. Mexico was also freed from quota limitations on legal immigration, so by 1963, more than 50,000 Mexicans were immigrating each year. With so many legal ways to enter the country, illegal immigration was virtually unknown.

In 1965, the U.S. ended the Bracero program and began to limit Mexican immigration. The number of guest-worker permits dropped to 1,725 in 1979 from more than 400,000 in 1959. The number of residence visas declined to 20,000 after previously being unlimited. But the demand for Mexican labor remained strong. And so the “era of undocumented migration” began. Border apprehensions rose to 1.7 million in 1986 from 55,000 in 1965. But even as millions of Mexicans entered the U.S. illegally, millions also returned. About 85 percent of new entries were offset by departures. Consequently, the growth of the undocumented population was slow.

After passage of a comprehensive immigration law in 1986, the U.S. began militarizing the border with Mexico even as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and, later, the North American Free Trade Agreement strengthened economic ties with Mexico. From 1986 to 2000, trade with Mexico increased eightfold.

Until this point, there isn’t much to dispute in Massey’s narrative. But here his immigration story takes a turn that confounds Washington’s conventional wisdom and makes a mockery of the current political debate.

According to Massey, the rise of America’s large undocumented population is a direct result of the militarization of the border. While undocumented workers once traveled back and forth from Mexico with relative ease, after the border was garrisoned, immigrants from Mexico crossed the border and stayed.

It then goes on to talk about now. There's one thing that has been bothering me about similar stories lately. They all mention how "net inflow" is zero and then switch to say immigration is zero. But those aren't the same thing and I'd like to know what both (in and out) numbers are (because if I'm going to use this argument, it's the first question I would get).

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