Why border enforcement backfired

Douglas S. Massey, Jorge Durand, Karen A. Pren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

233 Scopus citations


In this article the authors undertake a systematic analysis of why border enforcement backfired as a strategy of immigration control in the United States. They argue theoretically that border enforcement emerged as a policy response to a moral panic about the perceived threat of Latino immigration to the United States propounded by selfinterested bureaucrats, politicians, and pundits who sought to mobilize political and material resources for their own benefit. The end result was a self-perpetuating cycle of rising enforcement and increased apprehensions that resulted in the militarization of the border in a way that was disconnected from the actual size of the undocumented flow. Using an instrumental variable approach, the authors show how border militarization affected the behavior of unauthorized migrants and border outcomes to transform undocumented Mexican migration from a circular flow of male workers going to three states into an 11 million person population of settled families living in 50 states.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1557-1600
Number of pages44
JournalAmerican Journal of Sociology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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