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Unintended Consequences: When U.S. Blocks Access, Fewer Unauthorized Immigrants Leave America

David Molina, a professor at the University of North Texas, is the product of two cultures. Born in Detroit, Molina was raised by an American mother and a Mexican father, who was in Michigan to complete a medical residency. The family moved to Mexico City when Molina was a child, and Molina later returned to the United States to attend college, after which he stayed. “Because I fluctuated between the two economies, I was always fascinated by the two cultures I was raised in,” says Molina. He turned that fascination into a career, and has now spent decades studying global migration. He knows the United States must retain and support its immigrant population if the country is to prosper.

“Immigrants are ingrained in our economy,” Molina says. “And it’s not just in areas like Texas. There are so many Mexicans living in Alaska that we opened a Mexican Consulate there! So if you want to try to deport 11 million people you’re going to have to go to Alaska to do it.” He adds that current restrictions on entering — and leaving — the United States are part of the reason so many undocumented immigrants are living here permanently. “I always talk to my classes about the unintentional results of government policy,” he says. “And by making it more difficult for people to come here, we’ve actually increased the number of people staying here unauthorized.”

Molina would like to see a large expansion of guest worker visas that let people come to the United States, work, and then return home. This, he says, would alleviate the pressure that Hispanic parents feel to move their entire families to the United States. “A lot of our issues would be solved if we had better worker mobility,” he says. “If you let them come back and forth, leave their families in Mexico, and use money earned here to help those at home, it would solve a lot of problems. It’s a short-term solution but would have long-term impact.”

Molina sees firsthand the talent that the American economy is missing out on. “Several years ago I had an excellent student whose parents brought him here illegally when he was an infant, and he never found out he wasn’t a citizen until he was 16 years old,” Molina says. “He lives in constant fear, afraid of being removed from the only home he’s ever known. And he knows his professional options are limited as a result. If he was legal, he would probably own a business before he was 30 years old. But now, best case scenario, if he gets caught and doesn’t get deported, the best he can do is change your sheets at the Hilton.”

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