This research team will examine the growth of unauthorized and temporary migration to the United States, primarily for the vast majority of low-education Mexicans, but also for high-skilled groups from other countries. The research also will scrutinize how migration status relates to the degree of success that various kinds of migrants experience in the U.S.
Official estimates state that in 2008,approximately 11.9 million U.S. residents — 29 percent of the foreign born — were thought to be unauthorized migrants, and that nearly one in three children of immigrant parents and one-half of all foreign-born children have at least one unauthorized parent.
This count is low, the researchers say, due to some unexamined, underlying assumptions on the size of the undocumented Mexican population. First, no statistics exist for outmigration: Workers “recirculate” between the U.S. and Mexico, so they do not age demographically, like students in a college town.
Second, the American Community Survey and U.S. Census simply miss people in their official data collection, for several possible reasons. This particular population may not view itself as permanently living here. The lengths of residencies are uncertain and households are turbulent; it’s more difficult to count people who move around so much.
And the specter of increased enforcement of deportation laws may also be a factor. “Think about the dramatic increase in interior enforcement. We’re starting to investigate whether and how this might affect people’s cooperation in responding to surveys and to filling out forms,” Van Hook said.
To gain a more accurate count, the researchers will look beyond such sources as the Census and ACS to the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), school enrollment data, Mexican data sources, and the Immigrant Intergenerational Mobility in Metropolitan Los Angeles (IIMMLA) survey. Some of these have collected self-reported information about entry, green-card, and naturalization statuses of immigrants and their parents during the early-to-mid 2000s.
Bean and Van Hook recently received NIH GO (Grand Opportunity) funding to impute for the foreign-born respondents from eight different years of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), their class of admission and the occurrence and timing of immigrant legal permanent residence (LPR). These newly created data, which will be available for analysis in mid-2011, will provide the largest and most detailed source of nationally representative data on the entry status of the foreign-born population of the country during the 1990s and 2000s.
The best estimates possible of various kinds of migrants are necessary to answer current and future public-policy questions about the sources of growth and variation of the extent of incorporation of the foreign born population, particularly the unauthorized portion. Another brief will address the potential long-run costs of not providing pathways to legalization and citizenship for those migrants needed for the workforce but whose status is unauthorized or temporary. Such immigrants (and increasingly even legal permanent residents) face legal strictures that limit employment opportunities, reduce incentives to make long-term plans or investments, and discourage interactions with public officials and professionals (including teachers and health care workers).
The percentage of the U.S. foreign born that is Mexican, unskilled, and unauthorized is larger than ever before. At the same time, the country increasingly needs immigrants for many kinds of work; many growing occupational sectors –, such as health care for an aging population – tend to be filled by low-skilled, unauthorized foreign labor.
The short-term cost of education up front – for example, offering the children of unauthorized migrants in-state college tuition – leads to economic success for these children and even greater educational gains for their children.
“Not offering a path to citizenship may greatly increase the chances that this group will not do very well, and it’s a large group,” Van Hook said. Bean said, “The team is working to generate findings on this question.”