Trump goal: Increase the cost of migration to the U.S.

Many of the Trump administration’s practices regarding immigration focus on one aim: to increase the cost of migrating to the United States. If we see the practices in this light, we can see how they mirror fundamental trends worldwide in migration.

Since the 1960s, the costs of migration from one country to another have dropped. The costs of movement have declined. The costs of settling have declined. The costs of staying in touch with the country of origin have declined.

First, the costs of movement. Air flights have reduced the cost, delays and uncertainties of travel. As more persons in developing countries gain more income, air travel is more affordable.

Second, the costs of settlement. As immigrant communities in destination countries increase in size, the ability of would-be and arriving migrants to to find housing, get jobs and fit in grows. This applies perhaps most to unauthorized migration – how to avoid deportation. But it also applies to legal immigration when channels such as refugee migration broaden. The Trump administration wants to stop the catch-and-release practices when people cross the Mexican border and then meet up with earlier migrants. This most recently has enabled unaccompanied minors to cross the southern border.

Third, the costs of keeping in touch with the host country. The most obvious improvement is in phone calls. It also includes air travel. Many immigrants today return for temporary visits. And consider remittances. Immigrant households in developed can probably better afford to share incomes in ways that can be used meaningfully in the country of origin. Methods of sending remittances have improved over the decades, and still are.

Trump’s practices form an overall strategy of aversive messaging to would be immigrants: don’t come. This applies to professionals as well as low wage workers: the spouses of temporary workers are not allowed to work.

Much of this is spelled out in Paul Collier, Exodus: How Migration is Changing our World.

What states are people deported from?

The United States deported 4.6 million people between 2003 and 2018, for an average of about 300,000 per year. The highest years, of about 400,000, were during the Obama administration. The two years under Trump were 225,000 or less. The Bush years averaged about 250,000, but went up in 2008.

Compare these deportations with the stock and flow of unauthorized persons. On average, about one person was deported for roughly every 40 unauthorized persons who were in the U.S. at the end of the year.

The total number of unauthorized persons in the country in 2003 was probably about 12 million. That has declined modestly to about 11 million. During this time, several hundreds of thousands of persons, each year, either entered illegally or over-stayed their temporary visas, while a hard to estimate number of unauthorized persons ever year left voluntarily and undetected.

This graph shows the distribution of deported persons by state, 2003 – 2018. The numbers for Arizona, California and Texas are very high due to their borders with Mexico.

Data from here.