NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 26, 2006

Sealing the borders will not, in and of itself, reduce the number of illegal aliens living in this country. Indeed, research suggests that the approach may well produce the opposite effect, says David B. Muhlhausen, a senior policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation.

A review of the entire body of research clearly suggests that enhanced border security will, at best, do little to reduce the overall number of illegal immigrants living in the United States.  Why?  Because even as it pares the entry of illegals, it slows the flow of illegal immigrants leaving the United States

The most comprehensive investigation of this phenomenon, conducted by University of Arizona Professor Manuela Angelucci, finds that each additional border patrol agent hired:

  • Stops roughly 771 to 1,621 individuals from entering the country illegally.
  • Encourages roughly 831 to 1,966 illegals already living here to extend their stay, for fear of being caught trying to exit or re-enter the country.

The upshot of putting more manpower on the border, then, is unclear.  Taking into account the likely length of "extended stays" by would-be illegal emigrants, it appears that this initiative may yield a net reduction of as many as 503 illegal residents for each additional agent hired, or a net increase that is nearly twice as large (995 illegal residents).

Clearly, a crackdown in border enforcement is not enough to solve the problem of illegal immigration, says Muhlhausen.  Immigration reform must also:

  • Address the "demand" side of the equation, by cracking down on employers who hire illegal migrants.
  • Simplify procedures to accommodate an expanded guest-worker program, so that immigrants may legally fill temporary jobs and easily return their country of origin.
  • Encourage economic reforms in countries of origin.

Source: David B. Muhlhausen, "Border Enforcement Is Not Enough," Washington Post, September 25, 2006.

For text (subscription required):


Browse more articles on Government Issues