Working Paper

Coyote crossings: the role of smugglers in illegal immigration and border enforcement


Abstract: Illegal immigration and border enforcement in the United States have increased concomitantly for over thirty years. One interpretation is that U.S. border policies have been ineffective. We offer an alternative view, extending the current immigration-enforcement literature by incorporating both the practice of people smuggling and a role for non-wage income into a two-country, dynamic general equilibrium model. We state conditions under which two steady state equilibria exist: one with a low level of capital, but relatively little migration. We then analyze two shocks: a positive technology shock to smuggling services and an increase in border enforcement. In the low-capital steady state, the capital-labor ratio declines with technological progress in smuggling, while illegal immigration increases. In the high-capital steady state, a technology shock causes the capital-labor ratio to rise while the effect on migration is indeterminate. We show that an increase in border enforcement is qualitatively equivalent to a negative technology shock to smuggling. Finally, we show that a developed country would never choose small levels of border enforcement over an open border. Moreover, a high level of border enforcement is optimal only if it significantly decreases capital accumulation. In addition, we provide conditions under which an increase in smuggler technology will lead to a decline in the optimal level of enforcement.

Keywords: Emigration and immigration; Mexico;

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Bibliographic Information

Provider: Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

Part of Series: Working Papers

Publication Date: 2002

Number: 0201

Pages: 38 pages

Note: Published as: Guzman, Mark G., Joseph H. Haslag and Pia M. Orrenius (2008), "On the Determinants of Optimal Border Enforcement," Economic Theory 34 (2): 261-296.