Here to Work, and Here to Stay
Subject increase in illegal workers reduces wages, and increases the burden on social services
Topic Supply and Demand; Labor Markets; Income Distribution and Poverty
Key Words Illegal Immigration, Labor Market, Poverty, Hispanics, Regulation
News Story

Since September 11, 2001, U.S. border patrols have increased significantly. Patrols have increased so much that the cost to cross illegally from Mexico into the US has increased to about $1,500 since 1995. This increase has had an unlikely effect: Workers who entered the US illegally are reluctant to try to cross back into Mexico during the winter, and therefore stay in the US permanently. In Stockton, California, workers cram into small apartments, sleeping wherever space is available.

This non-exodus has caused a drain on the social services provided by communities with high populations of illegal immigrants. Montezuma Elementary School in Stockton currently serves over 1,100 students, about four times its optimal capacity; hospitals are forced to write off medical bills of those uninsured and unable to pay their bills; and children born in the US to illegal immigrants are eligible for welfare assistance. Further, the illegal immigrants' permanent habitation has also caused wages to plummet. Wages for farm workers have fallen from $6.98 in 1989 to about $6.18 in 1998, causing not only Mexican workers to live in poverty, but also cutting American farm workers' income.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that, while the government has implemented stricter controls on border crossings, enforcement in the workplace has dwindled significantly. In other words, if immigrants make it across the border illegally, then it is highly likely that they will be able to remain for a significant period of time. If these individuals remain in poverty, it is unlikely that they will try to return to Mexico anytime soon, because of the increased risk involved in trying to return to the U.S. again.

(Updated October, 2003)


Using supply and demand curves, indicate why the number of people trying to cross back into Mexico for the winter has fallen.

2. Using supply and demand curves, indicate why the wages for farm workers has fallen between 1989 and 1998, from $6.98 to $6.18.
3. The government's stricter policy regarding the safety of the nation's borders is certainly one reason why immigrants have chosen not to stay. Is a looser policy toward crossing the border the answer? Why or why not? Use economic arguments to justify your position.
Source Eduardo Porter, "Tighter Border Yields Odd Result: More Illegals Stay." The Wall Street Journal. 10 October 2003.

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