Debacles on the Border: Five Decades of Fact-Free Immigration Policy

AuthorDouglas S. Massey,Jorge Durand
Date01 July 2019
Published date01 July 2019
/tmp/tmp-17ZrRPKX35otqV/input 857647ANN
The Annals of The American AcademyDebacles on the Border
Since 1987, the Mexican Migration Project (MMP) has
compiled extensive data on the characteristics and
behavior of documented and undocumented migrants
to the united States, and made them publicly available
to users to test theories of international migration and
evaluate u.S. immigration and border policies. Findings
based on these data have been plentiful, but have also
routinely been ignored by political leaders, who instead
continue to pursue policies with widely documented,
Debacles on the counterproductive effects. In this article, we review
prior studies based on MMP data to document these
Border: Five effects. We also use official statistics to document cir-
cumstances on the border today, and draw on articles in
this volume to underscore the huge gap between u.S.
Decades of
policies and the realities of immigration. Despite that
net positive undocumented Mexican migration to the
united States ended more than a decade ago, the
Trump administration continues to demand the con-
struction of a border wall and persists in treating
Immigration Central American arrivals as criminals rather than asy-
lum seekers, thus transforming what is essentially a
humanitarian problem into an immigration crisis.
Keywords: migration; undocumented migration;
immigration policy; border enforcement;
deportations; border wall; Mexico; Central
JOrge DurAND
For more than three decades, the Mexican
Migration Project (MMP) has annually
gathered data on documented and undocu-
mented migration to the united States from
random samples of households in sending com-
munities located throughout Mexico and from
purposive samples in u.S. destination areas.1
Over the years, the project has compiled an
extensive database of qualitative and quantita-
tive data on patterns and processes of Mexico-
u.S. migration. These data have been shown to
provide valid and reliable information on pat-
terns and processes of Mexican migration to
DOI: 10.1177/0002716219857647
ANNALS, AAPSS, 684, July 2019

the united States (Massey and Zenteno 2000; Massey and Capoferro 2004). The
resulting database has enabled analysts to monitor trends and link shifts in the
volume and composition of the migratory flows to specific social, economic, and
political developments (Massey and espinosa 1997).
The MMP data file currently contains information on 176,696 individuals liv-
ing in 28,319 households located in 170 Mexican communities surveyed with a
response rate of 92.9 percent. In addition to basic social, economic, and demo-
graphic data on each person, the survey gathers information on each person’s first
and last trip to the united States (city, state, year, duration, occupation, earnings,
and documentation), as well as the total number of u.S. trips ever made. In addi-
tion, it complies a complete history of migration and border crossing for all
household heads and spouses (including the place and year of crossing, cost of
crossing, use of crossing guide, number of apprehensions, place of destination,
occupation, and documentation), along with detailed data gathered on the head’s
most recent u.S. trip (financial activities, social relations, english fluency, terms
of employment, taxes withheld, spending on food and housing, savings, remit-
tances, and use of public services).
The purpose of the MMP is to provide representative and reliable data to
inform public discussion of the causes, consequences, trends, and patterns of
documented and undocumented migration to the united States. The project has
been the recipient of a MerIT Award from the u.S. National Institutes of
health and in 2018 was honored with the Bronislaw Malinowski Award from the
Society for Applied Anthropology in recognition of its contributions to under-
standing and serving the needs of the world’s societies using the concepts and
tools of social science. The MMP data are annually updated and made freely
available to users from the project website.2 To date, data compiled by the MMP
have provided the foundation for 46 books, 96 book chapters, 305 refereed arti-
cles, and 74 doctoral dissertations. The database currently has 5,129 registered
Jorge Durand is professor-investigator in the Department of Social Movement Studies at the
University of Guadalajara and codirector, with Douglas S. Massey, of the Mexican Migration
Project (since 1987) and the Latin American Migration Project (since 1996), cosponsored by
the University of Guadalajara and Princeton University. He is a lifetime member of Mexico’s
National Investigator System and an elected member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences,
the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the
American Philosophical Society. In 2018 the University of Guadalajara inaugurated the Jorge
Durand Chair in Migration Studies in his honor.
Douglas S. Massey is the Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at
Princeton University, where he also directs the Office of Population Research. He is codirec-
tor with Jorge Durand of the Mexican Migration Project (since 1987) and the Latin
American Migration Project (since 1996), cosponsored by the University of Guadalajara
and Princeton University. He is past-president of the American Sociological Association, the
Population Association of America, and the American Academy of Political and Social
Science and an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and Academia

data users from around the world, including analysts in government, business,
and academia as well as the general public.
The journal in which this article is being published is owned by the American
Academy of Political and Social Science—an organization whose guiding vision is
to bring social scientific research to bear on important public policy issues. MMP
data have supported a steady stream of analyses on the performance and efficacy
of u.S. immigration policies over the years, but, unfortunately, policy-makers
have paid little attention to these analyses and their results, despite vigorous
efforts to publicize them. Instead, the legislative and executive branches of gov-
ernment have formulated and implemented policies without any real under-
standing of the migratory processes they are ostensibly seeking to manage. even
as evidence steadily accumulated to indicate that u.S. policies were not only
failing, but backfiring, political leaders persisted in supporting counterproductive
actions grounded in political expedience rather than empirical reality. The
results, in our view, have been disastrous, and have only served to divide and
polarize the nation.
The willful denial of facts and evidence in the pursuit of politics that are dis-
connected from reality continues to the present. In December 2018, for example,
President Trump partially shut down the u.S. government for more than a month
to dramatize his insistence on the construction of a multi-billion-dollar border
wall. This action went forward despite that homeland Security’s own data indi-
cate that the net volume of undocumented migration from Mexico effectively
turned negative (more undocumented migrants leave the united States than
arrive) after 2007 (Baker 2018) and that border apprehensions in 2017 were at
their lowest point since 1971 (u.S. Customs and Border Protection 2018a,
The collection of articles assembled here draw on data from the MMP to
update a prior edited volume that made use of data from an earlier version of the
database (Durand and Massey 2004). Both sets of studies offer the kinds of
results and data that should have informed u.S. policies in the past, but unfortu-
nately did not. We present this latest round of studies to provide a factual base
for understanding the current reality of Mexico-u.S. migration, in hopes that
policy-makers and the public make wiser policy choices in the future.
Before summarizing findings from these new analyses, we draw on earlier
research from the MMP to describe the immigration policy debacle that has
unfolded since 1965. We then turn to official statistics to describe the situation
currently prevailing along the Mexico-u.S. border. We...

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