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Immigration Policy Needs Penalties and Incentives

Author: Edward Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow
August 30, 2012


It is certainly too soon to say that the problem of illegal migration has been resolved in the United States and Europe. But over the past decade, it has been reduced from a major challenge to governmental authority to a manageable problem, largely as a consequence of weakening economies and expanded enforcement measures. The challenge for the near future will be to maintain that control as economies recover, and to do so in a fashion that is more in keeping with the values and economic interests of Europe and the United States.

The numbers are quite striking. In the United States, the population of unauthorized migrants rose dramatically from 1990, when it was just over 3 million, to roughly 12 million in 2007, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Since then it has fallen and leveled out at roughly 11 million, and the number of people attempting illegally to cross the land border with Mexico is now the lowest in more than four decades. In Europe, the numbers have fluctuated more, but the total population of irregular migrants has declined on average steadily since 2002, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The total EU population of irregular migrants is thought to be between 2 and 4 million.

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