, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp 1119–1145 | Cite as

Measuring Geographic Migration Patterns Using Matrículas Consulares

  • Maria Esther Caballero
  • Brian C. Cadena
  • Brian K. Kovak


In this article, we show how to use administrative data from the Matrícula Consular de Alta Seguridad (MCAS) identification card program to measure the joint distribution of sending and receiving locations for migrants from Mexico to the United States. Whereas other data sources cover only a small fraction of source or destination locations or include only very coarse geographic information, the MCAS data provide complete geographic coverage of both countries, detailed information on migrants’ sources and destinations, and a very large sample size. We first confirm the quality and representativeness of the MCAS data by comparing them with well-known household surveys in Mexico and the United States, finding strong agreement on the migrant location distributions available across data sets. We then document substantial differences in the mix of destinations for migrants from different places within the same source state, demonstrating the importance of detailed substate geographical information. We conclude with an example of how these detailed data can be used to study the effects of destination-specific conditions on migration patterns. We find that an Arizona law reducing employment opportunities for unauthorized migrants decreased emigration from and increased return migration to Mexican source regions with strong initial ties to Arizona.


International migration Immigration law Mexico United States 



This project was supported by a grant from the Berkman Faculty Development Fund at Carnegie Mellon University. This research has benefited from research, administrative, and computing support provided by the University of Colorado Population Center (CUPC; Project 2P2CHD066613-06), funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of CUPC or NICHD. The authors would like to thank Alexandra Chouldechova, Terra McKinnish, Fernando Riosmena, and Lowell Taylor, and participants at the 2017 Population Association of America Annual Meeting and the University of Oxford Workshop on Immigration, Health, and Well-Being for helpful comments. Benjamin Mayer provided excellent research assistance. Special thanks to Edith Soto Ramírez at the Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior for extensive discussions regarding the Matrícula Consular de Alta Seguridad data. Remaining errors are our own.

Supplementary material

13524_2018_675_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (6 mb)
ESM 1 (PDF 6147 kb) (52.8 mb)
ESM 2 (ZIP 54038 kb)


  1. Bartel, A. P. (1989). Where do the new U.S. immigrants live? Journal of Labor Economics, 7, 371–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bauer, T. K., Epstein, G. S., & Gang, I. N. (2002). Herd effects or migration networks? The location choice of Mexican immigrants in the US (CEPR Discussion Paper No. 3505). London, UK: Centre for Economic Policy Research.Google Scholar
  3. Bohn, S., Lofstrom, M., & Raphael, S. (2011, March). Lessons from the 2007 Legal Arizona Workers Act. Presented at the Public Policy Institute of California, Sacramento, CA.Google Scholar
  4. Bohn, S., Lofstrom, M., & Raphael, S. (2014). Did the 2007 Legal Arizona Workers Act reduce the state’s unauthorized immigrant population? Review of Economics and Statistics, 96, 258–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. DiMaggio, P., & Garip, F. (2012). Network effects and social inequality. Annual Review of Sociology, 38, 93–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dolfin, S., & Genicot, G. (2010). What do networks do? The role of networks on migration and “coyote” use. Review of Development Economics, 14, 343–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Duncan, O. D. (1957). The measurement of population distribution. Population Studies, 11, 27–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Garip, F. (2016). On the move: Changing mechanisms of Mexico–U.S. migration. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Garip, F., & Asad, A. L. (2016). Network effects in Mexico–U.S. migration: Disentangling the underlying social mechanisms. American Behavioral Scientist, 60, 1168–1193.Google Scholar
  10. Gonzalez-Barrera, A. (2015). More Mexicans leaving than coming to the U.S. (Technical report). Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.Google Scholar
  11. Hoekstra, M., & Orozco-Aleman, S. (2017). Illegal immigration, state law, and deterrence. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 9(2), 228–252.Google Scholar
  12. Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior (IME). (2004). Matrícula Consular de Alta Seguridad (MCAS) [High-security consular registration]. Mexicanos en el Exterior, September, 1 (10).Google Scholar
  13. Jaeger, D. A. (2000). Local labor markets, admission categories, and immigrant location choice. College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA.Google Scholar
  14. Kaplan, G., & Schulhofer-Wohl, S. (2012). Interstate migration has fallen less than you think: Consequences of hot deck imputation in the current population survey. Demography, 49, 1061–1074.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lafortune, J., & Tessada, J. (2014). Smooth(er) landing? The dynamic role of networks in the location and occupational choice of immigrants (ClioLab Working Paper No. 14). Macul, Santiago: Instituto de Economía, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.Google Scholar
  16. Li, G. (1985). Robust regression. In D. C. Hoaglin, F. Mosteller, & J. W. Tukey (Eds.), Exploring data tables, trends, and shapes (pp. 281–343). New York, NY: Wiley.Google Scholar
  17. Massey, D. S. (1986). The social organization of Mexican migration to the United States. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 487, 102–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Massey, D. S., & Espinosa, K. E. (1997). What’s driving Mexico–U.S. migration? A theoretical, empirical, and policy analysis. American Journal of Sociology, 102, 939–999.Google Scholar
  19. Massey, D. S., Rugh, J. S., & Pren, K. A. (2010). The geography of undocumented Mexican migration. Mexican Studies, 26, 129–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Massey, D. S., & Zenteno, R. (2000). A validation of the ethnosurvey: The case of Mexico-U.S. migration. International Migration Review, 34, 766–793.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. McConnell, E. D. (2008). The U.S. destinations of contemporary Mexican immigrants. International Migration Review, 42, 767–802.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McKenzie, D., & Rapoport, H. (2010). Self-selection patterns in Mexico–U.S. migration: The role of migration networks. Review of Economics and Statistics, 92, 811–821.Google Scholar
  23. Mundra, K., & Rios-Avila, F. (2016). Immigrant birthcountry networks and unemployment duration: Evidence around the Great Recession (IZA Discussion Paper No. 10233). Bonn, Germany: Institute for the Study of Labor.Google Scholar
  24. Munshi, K. (2003). Networks in the modern economy: Mexican migrants in the U.S. labor market. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 118, 549–599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). The economic and fiscal consequences of immigration. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Google Scholar
  26. National Conference of State Legislatures. (2015). States offering driver’s licenses to immigrants. Washington, DC: National Conference of State Legislatures. Retrieved from Google Scholar
  27. National Immigration Law Center. (2015). Basic facts about the matrícula consular. Los Angeles, CA: National Immigration Law Center. Retrieved from Google Scholar
  28. Palloni, A., Massey, D. S., Ceballos, M., Espinosa, K., & Spittel, M. (2001). Social capital and international migration: A test using information on family networks. American Journal of Sociology, 106, 1262–1298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Passell, J. S., & Cohn, D. (2014). Unauthorized immigrant totals rise in 7 states, fall in 14: Decline in those from Mexico fuels most state decreases (Technical report). Washington, DC: Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project.Google Scholar
  30. Patel, K., & Vella, F. (2013). Immigrant networks and their implications for occupational choice and wages. Review of Economics and Statistics, 95, 1249–1277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Riosmena, F., & Massey, D. S. (2012). Pathways to El Norte: Origins, destinations, and characteristics of Mexican migrants to the United States. International Migration Review, 46, 3–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ruggles, S., Alexander, J. T., Genadek, K., Goeken, R., Schroeder, M. B., & Sobek, M. (2010). Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.Google Scholar
  33. Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores. (n.d.). Matrícula consular [Consular registration]. Retrieved from
  34. Suro, R. (2005). Survey of Mexican migrants, part one: Attitudes about immigration and major demographic characteristics (Technical report). Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center.Google Scholar
  35. Suro, R., & Escobar, G. (2006). Survey of Mexicans living in the U.S. on absentee voting in Mexican elections (Technical report). Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center.Google Scholar
  36. Winters, P., de Janvry, A., & Sadoulet, E. (2001). Family and community networks in Mexico-U.S. migration. Journal of Human Resources, 36, 159–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Woodruff, C., & Zenteno, R. (2007). Migration networks and microenterprises in Mexico. Journal of Development Economics, 82, 509–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maria Esther Caballero
    • 1
  • Brian C. Cadena
    • 2
    • 3
  • Brian K. Kovak
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Carnegie MellonHeinz CollegePittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Labor Economics (IZA)BonnGermany
  4. 4.National Bureau of Economic ResearchCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations