Economic motivation of undocumented immigrants

Luis Javier Mejia-Maya, Fordham University


The Hispanic population of the New York City metropolitan area includes a number of undocumented immigrants who have so far been studied through self-selective samples. The present study attempts to cover a more representative group of respondents applying innovative fieldwork procedures to a snow-ball survey. The result is a unique data set. Focus is on a comparison between the immigrant's life and work during last year in country of origin and his/her life and work during first year of residence in the U.S. Detailed information is presented on socio-demographic characteristics, labor market behavior, and monetary and non-monetary costs and benefits of the migratory move. Undocumented migration is discussed within the framework of American and Latin American political and economic trends. Regression analysis was used to find determinants of income and unemployment. Unemployment and first year earnings for this sample seem to be determined by human capital variables, personal factors and job characteristics. Education, home wages, type of occupation at home and in the U.S., and kinship networks have a significant effect on hourly wages. Total income during the first year of residence in the U.S. was determined by type of occupation, sex, cost of migration and access to kinship networks. On the other hand, sex, national origin, and kinship networks have a strong impact on the probability of an undocumented immigrant being unemployed during his/her initial stay in the country. Broad differences in income between the U.S. and the Latin American country of origin of the undocumented immigrant, high costs of migration, especially when measured in terms of weeks' earnings equivalent, and access to established kinship networks might combine to make obstacle oriented migration policies largely inconsequential. Statistical comparison with other surveys of the undocumented population was constrained by incomplete disclosure of the data collected for them. It is recommended that more comprehensive surveys of this population be conducted so that economic modeling of this type of migration can be anchored on a solid data base.

Subject Area

Labor economics|Labor relations|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Mejia-Maya, Luis Javier, "Economic motivation of undocumented immigrants" (1991). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9127038.