Study: Mexican Migrants Aren't Deterred by Border Fences

Unauthorized crossers are more concerned with jobs than getting caught.

August 02, 2013, 10:46 AM

Aug. 2, 2013— -- The Senate passed an immigration bill in June that would devote $46.3 billion to border fencing, drones, and agents.

All that enforcement power won't necessarily stop unauthorized crossers, though, according to a report published this week in the American Sociological Review.

Based on Mexican survey data, the report found that Mexican migrants crossing illegally are more likely to consider things like the job market in Mexico and the perceived danger of crossing when deciding to enter the U.S. They're less concerned with getting caught or punished.

That's something that experts have been saying for a while: economic factors are more likely to affect illegal immigration than border fences.

See Also: Why Two Decades of Tent City Is Enough

All the same, Congress remains committed to border spending. The immigration bill that passed in the Senate would add 19,000 new Border Patrol agents and complete 700 miles of fencing, installing a double-layer fence in some areas. Any legislation action this year in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will certainly account for border security.

Americans support more border security overall, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, with 64 percent in favor of the "border surge" mentioned above. But when they hear the price, that support drops to 53 percent.

This report lends some interesting context to the debate. Even if the U.S. doubles the number of Border Patrol agents over 10 years, the study implies that migrants who intend to cross might not be deterred.

The report compares Mexicans who intend to cross illegally into the U.S. to those who don't intend to cross, and then looks at the biggest differences between the two groups.

One of the main differences is how Mexicans perceive the economies in both countries. People who plan to cross illegally are more likely to think finding a job in the U.S. is easier than finding a job in Mexico.

The report also found that how Mexicans viewed the U.S. immigration system helped determine whether they might migrate or not.

People who planned to cross into the U.S. illegally were much more likely to believe "it is okay to disobey the law when one disagrees with it" and "disobeying the law is sometimes justified."

There are some policy recommendations that come along with the findings.

If migrants see the immigration system as more legitimate and fair, they might be less likely to cross illegally, the report found. Reforming the system to be more fair in the eyes of Mexican migrants, therefore, should be an "urgent priority," the author wrote.

Another takeaway: if the economy continues to improve in Mexico, migrants will have less of an incentive to cross illegally into the U.S.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events