Mexican Immigration to the United States
edited by George J. Borjas
University of Chicago Press, 2007
Cloth: 978-0-226-06632-5 | Electronic: 978-0-226-06668-4


From debates on Capitol Hill to the popular media, Mexican immigrants are the subject of widespread controversy.  By 2003, their growing numbers accounted for 28.3 percent of all foreign-born inhabitants of the United States. Mexican Immigration to the United States analyzes the astonishing economic impact of this historically unprecedented exodus. Why do Mexican immigrants gain citizenship and employment at a slower rate than non-Mexicans? Does their migration to the U.S. adversely affect the working conditions of lower-skilled workers already residing there? And how rapid is the intergenerational mobility among Mexican immigrant families?

This authoritative volume provides a historical context for Mexican immigration to the U.S. and reports new findings on an immigrant influx whose size and character will force us to rethink economic policy for decades to come. Mexican Immigration to the United States will be necessary reading for anyone concerned about social conditions and economic opportunities in both countries.


George J. Borjas is the Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and a research associate at the NBER. He is the author of several books, most recently Heaven’s Door: Immigration Policy and the American Economy.


"[The articles] are of interest outside the US simply because mobility across the US-Mexico friontier . . . is the most advanced case of problems affecting much of the developed world; the lessons of policy innovation are well-documented and abundant. . . . A rich collection of thoughtful, rigorous and original contributions."
— Nigel Harris, Development Policy Review

"This data driven collection is one that should be of interest to academic audiences, policymakers, and students of immigration generally. . . . The papers enhance knowledge of the economic consequences of immigration for both Mexico and the U.S. and point to important directions for future research."
— Michelle Johnson, Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare

"This is a useful book. . . . [It] will inform those scholars who are seeking to bring balance and empirical evidence to this highly emotinal subject."
— Daniel M. Masterson, Latin American Studies



- George J. Borjas
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226066684.003.0001
[Mexican immigration, United States, economic impact, NBER]
Reflecting the increased interest on issues regarding the economic impact of immigration, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has held four separate research conferences on immigration in the past two decades. This volume contains the studies presented at the fourth NBER conference, held in 2005. All of these studies focus specifically on issues related to Mexican immigration. This introductory chapter begins with a brief overview of Mexican immigration in the U.S. It then presents an overview of the subsequent chapters. (pages 1 - 12)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- George J. Borjas, Lawrence F. Katz
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226066684.003.0002
[Mexican immigrants, labor work, skilled labor, economic performance, immigration, labor markets]
This chapter uses the available microdata from the U.S. decennial Census to provide a sweeping account of the evolution of the Mexican-born workforce in the United States throughout the entire twentieth century. In particular, it describes the evolution of the relative skills and economic performance of Mexican immigrants and contrasts this evolution to that experienced by other immigrant groups arriving in the United States during the period. It also examines the costs and benefits of this influx. Specifically, it shows how the Mexican influx has altered economic opportunities in the most affected labor markets and discusses how the relative prices of goods and services produced by Mexican immigrants may have changed over time. (pages 13 - 56)
This chapter is available at:
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- Francine D. Blau, Lawrence M. Kahn
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226066684.003.0003
[Mexican immigrants, labor market, gender, labor supply, labor force participation, immigrant women]
This chapter examines the assimilation of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. labor market. It studies the relation between gender and assimilation in labor supply and wages, both within and across generations. It shows that there is a much more traditional gender division of labor in the family in Mexico than among Mexican immigrants in the United States, with women in Mexico having considerably lower labor force participation and higher fertility than their ethnic counterparts in the United States. It documents a dramatic rate of assimilation in the labor supply of Mexican immigrant women. After twenty years in the United States, the very large initial differences in female labor supply between Mexican women and other women have been virtually eliminated. Further, the labor supply gap remains small in the second and third generations. (pages 57 - 106)
This chapter is available at:
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- Edward P. Lazear
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226066684.003.0004
[assimilation, Mexican immigrants, immigration policy, English fluency, educational attainment, wages]
This chapter addresses the following question: why are assimilation rates among Mexican immigrants lower than those found in other immigrant groups? Mexican immigrants assimilate more slowly than other immigrants as reflected in English fluency. They also have lower levels of education, lower wages, and live in more concentrated areas than other immigrants. It is argued that the lower assimilation rates of Mexican immigrants may be a consequence of United States immigration policy. (pages 107 - 122)
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- Robert W. Fairlie, Christopher Woodruff
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226066684.003.0005
[self-employment, Mexican immigrants, Mexican workers, English fluency, legalization status]
This chapter explores several possible explanations of the lower rates of self-employment among Mexican immigrants in the United States. One possibility is that self-employment propensities of Mexican immigrants may be lower because the socioeconomic characteristics of Mexican workers in the United States differ systematically from those of Mexican workers who remain in Mexico. However, the differences in observed characteristics (such as education and age) between the two groups explain little of the gap between self-employment rates in Mexico and self-employment rates among Mexicans in the United States. Although the industrial distribution of workers differs between the two countries, these differences cannot account for the self-employment gap. The analysis suggests instead that barriers created by English language difficulties and legalization status may help to explain part of the relatively low rates of self-employment among Mexican immigrants. (pages 123 - 158)
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- Pablo Ibarraran, Darren Lubotsky
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226066684.003.0006
[Mexican immigrants, educational attainment, low-skilled Mexicans, Census]
This chapter uses data from the 2000 Mexican and U.S. Censuses to examine how the educational attainment of Mexican migrants to the United States compares to the educational attainment of those who remain in Mexico. The main finding is that low-skilled Mexicans are more likely than higher-skilled Mexicans to migrate to the United States. Mexican immigrants in the 2000 U.S. Census are older and significantly better-skilled than migrants in the 2000 Mexican Census. Though part of this discrepancy is likely caused by the particular sampling procedure of the Mexican Census, part is also likely caused by an undercount of young, largely illegal Mexican immigrants and overreporting of education in the U.S. Census. (pages 159 - 192)
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- David Card, Ethan G. Lewis
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226066684.003.0007
[Mexican immigrants, California, Texas, Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, Portland, Seattle, labor market, African Americans]
During the 1990s the number of Mexican immigrants living in the United States rose by nearly five million people. In previous decades, nearly 80 percent of Mexican immigrants settled in either California or Texas. Over the 1990s, however, this fraction fell rapidly. Less than one-half of the most recent Mexican immigrants were living in California or Texas in 2000. Many cities that had very few Mexican immigrants in 1990—including Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, Portland, and Seattle—gained significant Mexican populations. The inflow of Mexican immigrants to Southeastern cities is particularly significant because of the potential impact on the labor market prospects of less-skilled African Americans. This chapter explores potential explanations for the widening geographic distribution of Mexican immigrants and examines the effects of Mexican immigration on local labor markets across the country. (pages 193 - 228)
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- Brian Duncan, Stephen J. Trejo
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226066684.003.0008
[Mexican immigrants, selective intermarriage, socioeconomic progress, measurement bias]
This chapter looks for evidence on whether selective intermarriage and selective ethnic identification might bias observed measures of socioeconomic progress for later generations of Mexican Americans. Ideal data for this purpose would allow the identification of individuals who are descended from Mexican immigrants and how many generations have elapsed since that immigration took place. The analyses cannot directly substantiate significant biases in measuring the intergenerational progress of Mexican Americans. The data used here are inadequate, however, because they overlook families descended from Mexican immigrants in which neither parent self-identifies as Mexican. (pages 229 - 268)
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- Susan M. Richter, J. Edward Taylor, Antonio Yúnez-Naude
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226066684.003.0009
[Mexican immigrants, immigration policy, labor supply, labor force, North American Free Trade Agreement, Immigration Reform and Control Act, migrant labor]
Immigrant workers from Mexico are a critical component of the supply of labor to agriculture and many nonagricultural sectors in the United States. They constitute 3.5 percent of U.S. labor force but are heavily concentrated into two types of sectors: 25 percent are in services, and 29 percent are involved in production and transportation occupations. Two major policy changes—the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA)—together with intensified enforcement along the southern U.S. border, were aimed wholly or partially at curtailing the flow of unauthorized Mexico-to-U.S. migration. The curtailment of unauthorized migration had the potential to reduce the supply of labor to these U.S. economic sectors. But the policies had potentially counteracting effects. The overall impact of NAFTA, IRCA, and increased border enforcement on migration is theoretically ambiguous and therefore must be estimated econometrically. This chapter develops a dynamic econometric model to test the effect of these policy changes on the flow of migrant labor from rural Mexico to the United States. Recognizing that policy changes may have differential effects on male and female labor migration, it estimates the effects of policy changes by the gender of migrant flows as well. The models are estimated using retrospective data from the 2003 Mexico National Rural Household Survey. (pages 269 - 288)
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- Gordon H. Hanson
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226066684.003.0010
[Mexican states, labor market earnings, regional impact, migration behavior, earnings]
This chapter examines the regional impacts of emigration on labor supply and labor market earnings in Mexico. The chapter is organized as follows. Section 9.2 documents how migration behavior varies across regions of Mexico and discusses the criterion used for selecting which Mexican states to include in the sample. Section 9.3 describes how changes in labor supply vary across high- and low-migration states in Mexico, and compares mean earnings and the distribution of earnings in high-hand low-migration states. Section 9.4 uses standard parametric techniques and nonparametric techniques to examine how earnings have changed over time in high- and low-migration states. Section 9.5 discusses the limitations of the estimation strategy and ideas for extending the analysis. (pages 289 - 328)
This chapter is available at:
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Author Index

Subject Index