Death at the Border: Efficacy and Unintended Consequences of US Immigration Control Policy


  • Wayne A. Cornelius

    1. Wayne A. Cornelius is Director, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies and Center for U.S.—Mexican Studies, University of California at San Diego.
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This article assesses the efficacy of the strategy of immigration control implemented by the US government since 1993 in reducing illegal entry attempts, and documents some of the unintended consequences of this strategy, especially a sharp increase in mortality among unauthorized migrants along certain segments of the Mexico–US border. The available data suggest that the current strategy of border enforcement has resulted in rechanneling flows of unauthorized migrants to more hazardous areas, raising fees charged by people-smugglers, and discouraging unauthorized migrants already in the US from returning to their places of origin. However, there is no evidence that the strategy is deterring or preventing significant numbers of new illegal entries, particularly given the absence of a serious effort to curtail employment of unauthorized migrants through worksite enforcement. An expanded temporary worker program, selective legalization of unauthorized Mexican workers residing in the United States, and other proposals under consideration by the US and Mexican governments are unlikely to reduce migrant deaths resulting from the current strategy of border enforcement.