Why are there so many undocumented immigrants in the US in the first place? Economic and political crises in Latin America obviously give people an incentive to emigrate. However, as Daniel Connolly writes at PRI, our own restrictive immigration policies have also played a role. As he notes,
Away from the borders, the federal government rarely enforces immigration law. Why? For one, businesses want a reliable, low-cost work force. But for years, immigration has been so politically explosive that Congress hasn’t increased the number of legal visas.
The solution: tolerate illegal immigration. Both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations have quietly permitted the continued presence of people — particularly Mexican immigrants — who managed to enter illegally or overstay visas.
“If there is one constant in US border policy, it is hypocrisy,” Princeton University scholar Douglas Massey and colleagues wrote in their 2002 book about Mexican immigration, Beyond Smoke and Mirrors. “Throughout the twentieth century the United States has arranged to import Mexican workers while pretending not to do so.”
Prior to Trump’s increased law enforcement, immigrants who were not stopped near the border on arrival and who did not commit any violent crimes were highly unlikely to get deported. The risk of coming to work in the US without documents looks more reasonable in this light.