Expert Commentary

Economic impact of local immigration regulation

2010 study from Baylor University and Texas Wesleyan School of Law on the economic consequences involved in enforcing immigration laws.

Recessions and the subsequent job losses often result in backlash against a country’s migrants. Though migration patterns suggest a recent decline in new arrivals from Mexico in the United States, the U.S.-Mexico corridor has traditionally recorded some of the highest levels of migrant movement in the world. Anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States sometimes stems from perceived competition instead of cohesion concerns or security threats, but it can also be exacerbated by the increased temperature of political debates themselves.

A 2013 Migration Policy Institute report notes that the costs and scope of immigration enforcement have expanded greatly for the federal government in recent years; the costs were an estimated $18 billion in 2012, and some $187 billion since the passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. Of course, some communities across the country have also been implementing more stringent local policies. A 2010 study from Baylor University and Texas Wesleyan School of Law, published in the Cardozo Law Review, investigates the economic impact of new, restrictive immigration laws — whether they result in job gains or losses, and how they affect high-immigrant industries. The study, “The Economic Impact of Local Immigration Regulation: An Empirical Analysis,” examines the effects of the 110 local anti-immigration laws enacted by governments over the period 2005-2007 and related U.S. Census Bureau data. This figure understates the actual number of anti-immigration laws enacted during this period, the researchers note, because the study only considers three types of restrictive laws: “laws authorizing local police to enforce federal immigration laws; laws requiring proof of legal status to access benefits like employment or housing; and English-only laws.”

The findings include:

  • In places where local anti-immigration laws were enacted, employment fell by 1% to 2%. On average, 337 to 675 jobs were lost in jurisdictions that implemented such laws. This translates to 40 to 80 jobs lost in the median county.
  • Restrictive laws were found to reduce payroll share of high-immigrant industries by 2.6%. On average, payroll was reduced in such localities by 1% to 2% across all industries.
  • Because the labor data was primarily based on tax records, it is highly likely that job losses affect authorized workers as well, even in high-immigrant industries, the researchers note.
  • Restrictive immigration laws don’t uniformly affect high-immigrant industries. For example, restaurants showed small negative impacts, while wholesalers had negligible impact. Grocery and liquor stores showed an increase in employment and payroll, however. “In addition to the commonly offered hypothesis that the laws are causing workers to move out of restrictive jurisdictions, these results add another possible explanation: that workers are changing industries, rather than jurisdictions.”

The authors conclude that “cities and counties considering the efficacy of local immigration regulation must be able to base their decisions on information, not assumptions.” Such analysis is useful as it sheds light on whether the costs of implementing restrictive immigration laws outweigh its benefits.

A related 2012 study in the Journal of Labor Economics, “The Impact of Low-Skilled Immigration on the Youth Labor Market,” shows that certain kinds of immigration can negatively affect employment opportunities for younger U.S. citizens. A 2011 study published in Economic Inquiry, “Implications of Immigration Policies for U.S. Farm Sector and Workforce,” suggests that there are “distinct tradeoffs between reducing illegal immigration into the United States, and the productivity of the agricultural sector.” Further, related research has also found that certain political factors influence whether or not immigration laws are enforced at the local level.

Tags: Latinos, Hispanics

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