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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Policy Paper 55: U.S. Immigration Policy: Unilateral and Cooperative Responses to Undocumented Migration


This paper addresses the problem of undocumented immigration to the United States from Mexico, and current and proposed policies designed to control these undocumented flows. I summarize current U.S. policy toward undocumented Mexican immigration, which has been an expensive failure. I then take up three competing policy proposals: one pending in the U.S. Senate (S.1814 and S.1815) to expand the H-2A guest-worker program; one to construct a strict enforcement regime; and one based on linking U.S.–Mexican free trade to a free flow of labor. For each alternative, I predict likely outcomes and distributional consequences for seven types of actors (U.S. workers, U.S. consumers, U.S. employers, other U.S. citizens, undocumented immigrants, legal immigrants, and other Mexicans). I conclude that a binational approach to immigration control (a North American Common Market) is the most promising option, and I discuss its political feasibility.

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