Opening the Door: Migration and Self-Selection in a Restrictive Legal Immigration Regime
We examine how the large, one-time legalization authorized by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) has affected the scale and character of immigration to the U.S. since the late 1980s. Exploiting cross-country variation in the magnitude of the legalization shock, we find that each IRCA admit accounts for the subsequent admission of 1 to 2 family members, mostly immediate family. There is little evidence that the legalization increased subsequent unauthorized migration; in fact, fewer temporary visa overstays have somewhat offset the additional family admissions. The marginal family-sponsored admit has not been negatively selected and has not increased fiscal burdens.
For helpful comments and suggestions, we thank seminar participants at Cornell University, Harvard Kennedy School, Stanford University, Tufts University, the University of Virginia, the 2020 AEA Meetings, and the Virtual Economic History seminar. We are also extremely grateful for the research assistance of Meriem Fouad, Ben Matejka, and Michelle Wu, and funding support from Dartmouth College. All errors are our own. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.