New Report: Punishment Deters Illegal Immigrants

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by John Whitaker, NEE

A new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Researchshows that punishing illegal aliens for crossing the border dramatically reduces the risk of recidivism—they are less likely to try crossing the border a second time.  Effective punishments include prosecuting offenders in immigration court or banning them from obtaining visas.

The Free Beacon reports:

The paper is a collaboration between two university professors and three researchers with the government-funded Institute for Defense Analyses. To conduct their analysis, the authors obtained detailed, person-level data on apprehensions at the southwestern border between fiscal years 2005 and 2012. They used fingerprint data to link repeated apprehensions, building a picture of who crossed the border and at what time.

The researchers were interested in the effect of the U.S. Border Patrol’s Consequence Delivery System program. Rolled out between 2008 and 2012, the CDS set up three different levels of sanctions for the people that USBP apprehends: precluding the detained person from acquiring a visa in the five years following detention, repatriating the person at a location far away from where they entered (to stymie efforts to reconnect with smugglers), and criminal prosecution.

Interestingly, because the CDS was implemented in a patchwork fashion, areas with the program can be directly compared to those without it.  In effect, the government’s lackadaisical approach to the program’s implementation created a natural experiment.  This experiment shows that punishment is an effective deterrent when it comes to immigration crimes:

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Before the implementation of the CDS, 22.6 percent of migrants were re-apprehended within three months of initial apprehension, and 28.1 percent were re-apprehended within 18 months. However, after CDS was fully implemented those rates fell to 14.4 and 17.5 percent respectively, an eight- and ten-percentage-point drop.

The effectiveness of the CDS is further supported by a survey of apprehended migrants, which found a stark decline in the number of people saying that they intended to try again once deposited back across the border. Eighty-eight percent intended to try to reenter in 2007; by 2013, that rate was 49 percent.

These results suggest that increasing the threat of punishment may be more effective, and cost-effective, than hiring more border agents or building a wall.

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