Immigration Policy's Backfire

The Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Immigration Policy's Backfire


THE SOURCE: "Unintended Consequences of U.S. Immigration Policy: Explaining the Post-1965 Surge From Latin America" by Douglas S. Massey and Karen A. Pren, in Population and Development Review, March 2012.

In April, the pew research center reported that the net number of people migrating from Mexico to the United States had fallen to zero, and might even have entered negative territory, largely thanks to the evaporation of job prospects in the United States. This finding coincides with the end of a four-decade trend that saw the Hispanic population of the United States rise from 10 million in 1970 to 50 million in 2010. What caused the upsurge? An ill-conceived immigration reform law in 1965 and decades of harsh enforcement policies that backfired, contend Princeton sociologist Douglas S. Massey and Karen A. Pren, manager of Princeton's Mexican Migration Project.

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The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was intended to open a new era for U.S. immigration policy. The sweeping legislation did away with retrograde quotas on select nationalities, replacing them with quotas that prioritized immigrants' skills and family connections. Lawmakers also ended the Bracero program, a guest worker scheme for Latin Americans that critics put "on a par with Southern sharecropping."

The new law made countries in the Western Hemisphere subject to quotas for the first time, however, and the allotments for visas for Latin Americans were woefully insufficient. Mexicans, the largest Latin American migrant group, had previously enjoyed access to unlimited resident visas and about 450,000 guest worker visas through the Bracero program. By the late 1970s, the only legal way for a Mexican migrant to enter the United States was to secure one of just 20,000 resident visas or to be invited by an immediate relative who was a U. …

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