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Study: How Stronger Border Enforcement Changes Immigration Patterns From Mexico Into the U.S.

With many of the GOP presidential candidates detailing their plans for immigration reform, a timely study looked into the effects of increased border security between the U.S. and Mexico.

Image source: John Moore/Getty ImagesImage source: John Moore/Getty Images

The research by Todd Pugatch with Oregon State University and Sarah Bohn with the Public Policy Institute of California doesn’t tackle the question over whether increased border enforcement has positive or negative results, but looked at the data of how this enforcement impacts migration patterns from Mexico into the U.S.

What they found was that for every 1,000 additional border patrol agents enforcing illegal immigration in a U.S. state, that state’s number of Mexican immigrants went down by about 22 percent between 1994 and 2011.

Pugatch said that states were Mexican immigrants have usually settled saw a decline in illegal immigration due to stricter enforcement, and, as a result, “Mexicans recently have been settling in parts of the U.S. where historically they have not lived in large numbers.”

“We’re not looking at whether the total number of immigrants goes up or down,” he said in a statement. “What our paper is showing is how, at a given time, immigrants are dispersed. It’s like squeezing a balloon. The total amount of air is the same, but the shape is changed.”

This, the researchers wrote in the study published in the journal Demography, is the “first evidence on the causal effect of border enforcement on the full spatial distribution of Mexican immigrants to the United States.”

“Our estimates imply that if border enforcement had not changed from 1994 to 2011, the shares of Mexican immigrants locating in California and Texas would each be 8 percentage points greater, with all other states’ shares lower or unchanged,” Pugatch and Bohn wrote.

Though California and Texas saw fewer numbers of immigrants during this timeframe, the study authors noted that states like Illinois, New York, Florida and Georgia saw numbers rise.

Understanding how border enforcement impacts immigration decisions, the researchers said, could be useful for policymakers. Border enforcement could also influence where individuals entering the country legally choose to live as well, Pugatch said.

“Policymakers at every level have concerns about how immigrants change social and economic conditions in a community,” Pugatch said. “If we can better understand why people end up the places they do, we can better prepare.”

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