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America is about to find out what happens to the economy without undocumented immigrants

America is about to find out what happens to the economy without undocumented immigrants

Trumponomics: VICE Money comments on the economics of the Trump era.

Unauthorized crossing of the U.S. border with Mexico declined sharply in the month after Donald Trump’s inauguration in January, amid what appears to be a high-profile crackdown by the new administration on undocumented workers across the country.

Apprehensions of people illegally crossing the U.S. border, considered a good bellwether of overall unauthorized immigration activity, fell by 38 percent compared February 2015, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. While such year-over-year declines also occurred throughout several months in 2015, the February decline was notable. Historical immigration patterns would predict that unauthorized crossings would start to rise in February and March.

It’s not clear that the actions of the Trump administration are directly responsible for February’s decline. Some smugglers who bring unauthorized immigrants across the border, known as “coyotes,” have raised prices recently, in reaction to perceptions of tighter border security.  

In fact, unauthorized border crossings by  Mexicans have been on a nearly continuous decline since apprehensions peaked at 1.6 million in 2000. Other groups have increased slightly since then, but the sharp decline in Mexican migration to the U.S. is the main reason that the estimated share of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. has flatlined since the Great Recession at around 11 million. Today, the vast majority of the people being apprehended at the border are Central Americans rather than Mexicans.

Still, if the February decline proves to be a durable trend rather than a blip, it could have large implications for industries that rely heavily on flows of undocumented labor, such as California’s agriculture sector, which is the nation’s largest. (About half California’s farm workers are thought to be unauthorized, according to a study published in 2009.)

“There are a lot of illegal immigrants working in the country who are productive and critical to the agriculture and hotel industries,” Farmer Craig Underwood told the Ventura County Star. “We need those people and some rational immigration policy. If (Trump) makes it harder for qualified people to come in and work and tries to get rid of productive people who are already here, that’s going to be bad.”

 

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