Skip to main content

The U.S. 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act and undocumented migration to the United States

Abstract

One of the major goals of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) is to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants coming to and residing in the United States. This goal is pursued by allocating increased resources to Border Patrol enforcement, imposing penalties on employers for hiring undocumented workers, and offering to legalize the undocumented population that has resided in the country for a substantial period of time. This paper evaluates the impact of IRCA on the flow of undocumented migrants across the U.S.-Mexican border by analyzing a monthly time series of Border Patrol apprehensions from January 1977 to September 1988 within the context of a multivariate statistical model. The model provides a good fit to the data (R2 = 0.94), and our results indicate that INS resources, Mexican population growth, comparative economic conditions on both sides of the border, and seasonal factors related to the agricultural planting and harvesting cycle are all determinants of border apprehensions and, by implication, of the flow of undocumented migrants to the United States. IRCA's impacts on the number of ‘apprehensions averted’ operate mainly through changes in INS effort, the SAWs agricultural legalization program, and other IRCA-related factors. Our analysis concludes that the effects of IRCA, though perhaps smaller than sometimes alleged, were associated with a cumulative net reduction in linewatch apprehensions of nearly 700,000 in the 23-month period following enactment of the law. The associated reduction over the same period in the number of illegal border crossings may be as high as 2 million.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Alba, F. and J. E. Potter (1986). ‘Population and Development in Mexico since 1940: An Interpretation’,Population and Development Review 12: 47–75.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bean, F. D., E. E. Telles, and B. L. Lowell (1987). ‘Undocumented Migration to the United States: Perception and Evidence’,Population and Development Review 13: 671–690.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bean, F. D., B. L. Lowell, and L. J. Taylor (1988). ‘Undocumented Mexican Immigrants and the Earnings of Other Workers in the United States’,Demography 25: 35–52.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bean, F. D., G, Vernez, and C. B. Keely (1989).Opening and Closing the Doors: Evaluating Immigration Reform and Control. Washington, D.C. and Santa Monica, CA: Program for Research on Immigration Policy.

    Google Scholar 

  • Borjas, G. J., R. B. Freeman, and K. Lang (1987). ‘Undocumented Mexican-Born Workers in the U.S.: How Many, How Permanent?’ Paper presented at the National Bureau of Economic Research Conference on Immigration, Trade and Labor, Cambridge, Massachusetts, September 11–12.

  • Borjas, G. J. and M. Tienda (1987). ‘The Economic Consequences of Immigration’,Science 235: 645–651.

    Google Scholar 

  • Espenshade, T. J. (1989). ‘Growing Imbalances between Labor Supply and Labor Demand in the Caribbean Basin’, In F. D. Bean, J. Schmandt, and S. Weintraub (eds.),Mexican and Central American Population and U.S. Immigration Policy. Austin: The University of Texas Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Espenshade, T. J. and J. E. Taylor (1988). ‘Undocumented and Seasonal Workers in the California Farm Work Force’, in B. D. Dennis (ed.),Proceedings of the Fortieth Annual Meeting. Madison, Wisconsin: Industrial Relation Research Association.

    Google Scholar 

  • Espenshade, T. J., F. D. Bean, T. A. Goodis, and M. J. White (1990). ‘Immigration Policy in the United States: Future Prospects for the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986’, in G. Roberts (ed.),Population Policy: Issues and Problems. Praeger Press.

  • Espenshade, T. J., M. J. White, and F. D. Bean (forthcoming). ‘Patterns of Recent Illegal Migration to the United States’, in W. Lutz (ed.),Future Demographic Trends in Europe and North America, Laxenburg, Austria: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

  • Federation for American Immigration Reform (1989).Ten Steps to Securing America's Borders. Washington, D.C.: Federation for American Immigration Reform.

    Google Scholar 

  • Frisbie, P. (1975). ‘Illegal Migration from Mexico to the United States: A Longitudinal Analysis’,International Migration Review 9: 3–13.

    Google Scholar 

  • Goodis, T. A. (1986). ‘A Layman's Guide to 1986 U.S. Immigration Reform’, Policy Discussion Paper PDS-86-4, December 1986. Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hoefer, M. D. (1990). Personal communication, January 2.

  • Massey, D. S. (1988). ‘Economic Development and International Migration in Comparative Perspective’,Population and Development Review 14: 383–413.

    Google Scholar 

  • Massey, D. S. and F. G. España (1987). ‘The Social Process of International Migration’,Science 237: 733–738.

    Google Scholar 

  • Massey, D. S., K. M. Donato, and Z. Liang (forthcoming). ‘Effects of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986: Preliminary Data from Mexico’, in F. D. Bean, B. Edmonston, and J. Passel (eds.),Illegal Immigration to the United States During the 1980s. Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute Press.

  • Mathews, J. (1988). ‘Using Fake Papers, Migrants Skirt Law’,Washington Post, November 3, Section A, p. 3.

  • Muller, T. and T. J. Espenshade (1985).The Fourth Wave: California's Newest Immigrants. Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • SAS Institute Inc. (1984).SAS/ETS User's Guide. Version 5 Edition, Cary, NC: SAS Institute Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  • Select Commision on Immigration and Refugee Policy (1981).U.S. Immigration Policy and the National Interest: The Staff Report of The Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    Google Scholar 

  • Suro, R. (1989). ‘1986 Amnesty Law is Seen as Failing to Slow Alien Tide’,The New York Times, June 18, Section 1, p. 1.

  • The New York Times (1983). ‘Illegal Alien Captures at Record for Year’, September 16, Section A, p. 13.

  • Todaro, M. P. and L. Maruszko (1987). ‘Illegal Migration and U.S. Immigration Reform: A Conceptual Framework’,Population and Development Review 13: 101–114.

    Google Scholar 

  • U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (1988).1987 Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    Google Scholar 

  • U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (1989a). ‘Provisional Legalization Application Statistics’, Washington, D.C.: Statistical Analysis Branch, Office of Plans and Analysis, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service May 12, 1989.

    Google Scholar 

  • U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (1989b).1988 Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    Google Scholar 

  • Warren, R. and J. S. Passel (1987). ‘A Count of the Uncountable: Estimates of Undocumented Aliens Counted in the 1980 United States Census’,Demography 24: 375–393.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

White, M.J., Bean, F.D. & Espenshade, T.J. The U.S. 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act and undocumented migration to the United States. Popul Res Policy Rev 9, 93–116 (1990). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02343244

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02343244

Keywords

  • Major Goal
  • Economic Geography
  • Undocumented Immigrant
  • Border Crossing
  • Mexican Population