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The Reasons Behind Illegal Immigration

December 14, 2016 2:45 p.m.

The Reasons Behind Illegal Immigration


Enrico Marcelli, associate professor and demographer, San Diego State University

Related Story: Death At The Border: A Brother's Fatal Journey Inspires Altruism


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

This is KPBS Midday Edition I'm Allison St. John. Yesterday particularly search for migrant who got lost crossing the border. In part two of this series Jean Guerrero looks at how this San Diego-based to search and rescue group came to exist and why.
Reporter: as Ely Ortiz walks through the desert searching for migrants he recalls his dead brother. Rigoberto went missing while he was trying to enter the US illegally in 2009. Is coyote or human smuggling confessed that he added banded -- had abandoned Rigoberto in his last breaths.
I told myself I am not going to leave my brother lying out there.
Reporter: Ortiz went out on foot and found his brother's body with the help of the human rights act is -- activist. Inspired he launched Eagles of the desert a nonprofit that searches for migrants who go missing along the border.
So their families will stop having that uncertainty have where is my loved one. To give them peace.
Reporter: border crossing deaths have skyrocketed since fences were built in the 1990s rerouting migrant traffic into the dangerous desert. Hundreds die each year of dehydration or hypothermia.
It is the policy of the United States it was the policy of closing off the border and forcing them to cross the most dangerous to areas.
Reporter: President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to expand current fencing. Trump cannot seal off the entire border because of geographical obstacles that he can make it longer and stronger and taller. Ortiz says Trump's wall will increase deaths by family migrants are more dangerous crossing routes. Sean Moran of the national border patrol Council will make it easier for agents to do their jobs. He does not think it will stop the flow of migrants or their deaths.
If we build a 20 foot wall they will build a 21 foot ladder and they will try to get an.
Reporter: he says the US needs to eliminate incentives for migrants to come here illegally.
So we have good policies for people to shut down hiring illegal aliens. We will not be able to shut down the flow.
Reporter: he believes the flow will not stop until economic conditions improve. Refugees are replacing economic migrants. They are more desperate undeterred by barriers are risks. Already people are rushing to cross the border before the term begins. Some are dying beyond -- along the way.
Mothers call me crying and my soul breaks. They ask for help and you are basically their last hope.
Reporter: on weekdays he takes care of the North County avocado farms a contrast to the dry desert of his weekend. The sprinklers have been running all morning here and there are piles of wet leaves on the ground.
I like being in nature between the trees.
Reporter: he waters the trees and make sure they flourish. He migrated from Mexico second poorest state. He lives in Fallbrook with his daughters who are University graduates are college-bound in his living room Ortiz listens to messages from the families of missing migrants the man is asking for help. He says he is desperate and his brother disappeared in the Arizona desert just like Ortiz his brother.
Every call and receive and never report and receive I can fill the same thing I again remember the same thing.
Reporter: despite everything he's accomplished in the US he dreams of moving back to Mexico. In the U.S. he feels discrimination. At the border he says he can see it and smell it and touch it. The human remains are scattered across the desert. Jean Guerrero KPBS news.
The story spring home just how risky it is to try to cross the US Mexican border illegally. Thousands have died in the attempt. What is driving people to take these risks sometimes trying to get him again. Here to help us understand is my guest who was a professor at San Diego State University with a PhD in political economy and public policy.'s research focuses on legal and undocumented immigrants in the United States.
Think is a much for being here. So what are the main factors to drive people to risk death.
The really separate these factors in the six categories but the two leading categories are economic opportunities and family and friendship reunification at social networks. For example our work shows most migrant say they come for work-related reasons. 25% come to reunite with family and another 20% come for improved medical care.
The idea that all the people are actually Mexican nationals is incorrect. Where are they coming from?
Mexico is certainly the largest center of migrants to the United States representing about 20% of all foreign-born residents to the United States but Asia is the largest after that with China and India sending very large shares as well.
What about South America?
It only represents about six or 7% of the rest of the population in the United States. It is similar for some -- Central America as well.
That is coming across the US Mexican border.
Most people think weather is unauthorized or they think they are crossing the border that unauthorized immigrants don't go for Mexicans. They come in illegally by obtaining a tourist visa or becoming a student and overstay their visas. Is actually a misconception that most come to the United States across the border.
However there is a proportion of them that come across the border and that's the one that genes story has been focusing is on and I wonder if there has been a change in the origin of some of the immigrants who are trying that dangerous journey.
Absolutely. A colleague of mine has done the best work on this so his work has shown that there is a decrease in migration to the United States and it has stayed pretty constant at 11 million people but the gap has been made up by increasing unauthorized migration from China India the sub-Saharan certain countries and also from certain American countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador and Honduras.
It is a bigger wall like President Donald Trump is going to build will be effective in increasing illegal immigration.
If that will work -- worked perfectly would only be acted on half of the unauthorized flow. Number two the evidence from the early 90s on suggests that rather than deterring an authorized immigration a results in more crime and more tests as you alluded to a moment ago and an increasing number of unauthorized migrants settling permanently in the United States because they don't want to go back home and try to make the trip again because it's more difficult to come across.

Has there been research on the most effective way.
There is a lot of debate about this
There is a lot of debate about the ascending country such as Guatemala and Mexico to try to help them develop economically the thinking is that while pressure will come to the United States but we have to remember that people come from many different reasons some are related to national disasters -- natural disasters or violence in the home are political or gang-related violence. It can also be for earnings potential. It's not automatically going to stem the flow and I would just get back to your original question about the wall. The evidence from the last time I tried to cut off sections of the wall or beef it up resulted in things that were surprising and did not really stem the flow.
If you look at the economic ask -- incentive which is what you're saying if what we are seeing is the peso dropping from the election. That again would have a counterproductive effect in the sense that if the economy goes down there is more of an incentive to come to this country.
Increasingly survey evidence is suggesting that people are not interested in staying in the United States forever. Many of them want to go back to their home countries eventually like any of us. I want to emphasize that it's not always these discussed talk picket -- topic -- some less interesting factors may be influencing Mike simply population dynamics. Colleagues of ours have done a lot of good work showing the aging population resulting in the old age dependency ratio is resulting actually and less migration to the United States of the predictions from the United Nations are that these population Diane Mannix -- dynamics may become more important and the traditional reasons we have also talked about with economic opportunity and family time.
Is there an argument for actually allowing my immigration into this country.
Absolutely. If you look at the demographic evidence this is not a political issue. What I am saying if you look at the labor market -- we are already agent. The demand for healthcare workers and other workers including Mexico and we will not have enough people to actually fill the jobs. We will be trying to work with the immigration system that creates more legal opportunities to invest in the countries to try to create skills.
Thank you very much. Coming up in part three of our series tomorrow Jean Guerrero and the Eagles hike back into the desert and runs in so some trouble.