Undocumented immigrants are not just in it for the jobs, and here’s why

 

When the Gang of Eight authoring the Senate immigration reform bill, which would be the first major overhaul since the 1980s, recently announced a new provision to create a “human wall” at the U.S.-Mexico border, tensions rose to a new high in the nation’s capital. The move would double the number of border patrol agents and funnel over $46 billion to border security in the Southwest. Since then, Senator John McCain has said that the plans for a human wall might have to be tweaked, but an increase in border enforcement will continue to be central to the debate over this bill.

As deliberations continue, a study released last Thursday for the American Sociological Review puts a new spin on the fundamental question of why there are so many (around 11 million) undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to begin with.

According to the new research, the danger of arrest and punishment at the border is not that big of a deterrent for many Mexicans considering whether to cross into the U.S. illegally. And as they weigh the decision, they have a lot more on their minds than just finding a better job. Many Americans assume that the decision to cross illegally is a purely economic one, since jobs in the U.S. often pay better. Yet values and social norms in the communities that Mexican immigrants come from may play a larger role in the decision to hop the border than previously realized. The study offers a gentle reminder—not to mention empirical evidence—that undocumented Mexican immigrants have the distinctly human trait of not being automatons.

“The view of would-be migrants as atomistic, utility-maximizing opportunists diverts our attention away from the complex and wide-ranging moral systems within which prospective migrants are embedded,” writes the study’s author, USC law professor and former Stanford research fellow, Emily Ryo.

Security wall at the border between New Mexico and Mexico.


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