The state of immigration policy research

This week, immigration officials in Texas arrested a 10-year-old girl en route to the hospital. Rosa Maria Hernandez, who also has cerebral palsy, has been in the US since she was three months old, but is an unauthorized immigrant. After the ACLU filed suit against the Trump administration, she was released to her family, but still faces deportation.

How did we get here, and where are we going? Below is a summary of recent research on immigration policy based on the presentations at the APPAM conference in Chicago. If busy, you can read less on Twitter.

Should employers be required to check legal status of workers? The federal government’s E-Verify program is enforced in different ways across states. It imposes significant costs on employers and locks workers without papers into their existing jobs, but it doesn’t seem to result in benefits to native-born workers. Read more: States taking the reins?

What do migrants do when E-verify is enforced? The Mexican census records what cities migrants leave from; the US census records what cities people arrive to. Brian Cadena’s team uses records from Mexican government’s migrant ID program (called matrículas consulares, or just matrículas) to connect the two databases, then tests those connections by looking migration flows following the 2007 Legal Arizona Workers Act. Early results: Mexican migrants stopped coming to Arizona; and when they left, they returned to Mexico. See Measuring Sub-National Networks Using Matrículas Consulares.

Is there a relationship between immigration and crime? Arizona’s 2007 law, which pushed out immigrants, led to a subsequent drop in crime. But that drop is due mostly to the departure of 18-24 year-old men; if a similar number of citizens in that age group had left, crime would have dropped similarly–maybe even more. Also, much of the crime drop was in property crime, especially vehicles, which begs the question: How much of the drop in crime was that the most vulnerable to property crime had left? Read more: New Evidence on Mexican Immigration and Crime in the United States.

Is merit-based immigration better than family-based immigration? President Trump’s currently prefers merit-based immigration. But some types of family-based immigrants do better in the job market over time–and even when they don’t, they might be grandparents supporting their children’s careers. See Do Employer-Sponsored Immigrants Fare Better?

How well do refugees do in the US? This turns out to be a tricky question to answer: Refugees receive some refugee-specific assistance and some assistance available to US citizens (like Medicaid); they receive some of it for three months and some of it for multiple years. They go through multiple programs, but we’re not sure which ones work–evaluation is complicated by the fact that refugee assistance programs regularly shift what they’re doing to adapt to new populations. One promising bit of research: Work from the Immigration Policy Lab at Stanford suggests we might be able to use machine learning to more effectively match arriving refugees with cities where they are likely to thrive. See Growing the Data and Evidence Base on Domestic Refugee Resettlement.

What is up with cities and states enacting their own immigration policy?  Immigrant advocates are less than pleased about the current administration. But even before that, they had begun taking immigration issues into their own hands. California once led the way in anti-immigrant policies; today, it is working toward a de facto state-level citizenship, according to Karthik Ramakrishnan and Allan Colbern. Read more: Immigrant Inclusion and Federated Citizenship in the United States.

What about the kids? In her keynote speech, APPAM President Carolyn Heinrich focused in on a disturbing string of research results. US immigration enforcement policies are having a big impact on kids, including US citizen children, preventing access to health insurance, healthcare, preschool, and Headstart. Read more here and here. The story of Rosa Maria Hernandez, still facing deportation, is one of tens of thousands. Read more.

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