IIR Colloquium Series: Michael Clemens

Policy of Crisis: The Effect of Lawful Migration Channels on Unlawful Migration at the US Southwest Border, 2011–2023

Tuesday, April 9, 2024 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM EDT
Commerce Building, #2006

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US officials create substantial numbers of lawful channels for irregular migrants to cross the Southwest border, such as for asylum seekers. Michael Clemens estimates the effect of these lawful channels (at Ports of Entry) on unlawful border crossing (between Ports of Entry). This effect is ambiguous in theory: Lawful channels in principle could encourage migrants to substitute away from unlawful channels, but could also encourage more arrivals at the border overall, with an offsetting effect on unlawful crossing. Clemens studies the full universe of 10,891,565 initially inadmissible migrants encountered there from October 2011 through July 2023, using the method of Local Projections to quantify the relationship between expansions in lawful channels and subsequent trends in unlawful crossing. Expanded lawful channels cause reduced unlawful crossings, an effect that grows over time. A ten percent expansion in lawful channels, after ten months, causes a three percent reduction in unlawful crossing. This deterrent effect explains 7–12 percent of the overall variance in unlawful crossings between 2011 and 2023, suggesting that pressure from unlawful border crossings is heightened by a lack of lawful channels as Ports of Entry.

Author's Biography

Michael A. Clemens is a professor in the Department of Economics at George Mason University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics since 2023.

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