SAN DIEGO — Mexican migrants deciding whether to cross the border illegally are driven not just by economics — but also by their own beliefs about whether United States immigration laws are legitimate and fairly applied, a new study finds.
The study, published this month in the American Sociological Review, paints a complicated picture of why people choose to enter the U.S. illegally.
Some findings seem unsurprising: Mexican men are more likely to decide to cross into the United States illegally if they think there are few jobs in Mexico, the study shows. Men who think crossing illegally is very dangerous were less likely to say they intend to make the trip.
But economic troubles in Mexico don’t completely explain why some men cross and some don’t, said Emily Ryo, the Stanford Law School research fellow who was the author of the study. The way that would-be-migrants see the law is also important: Mexican men who believe that U.S. immigration rules are unfairly applied were more likely to plan on violating them, she found.
For instance, Mexican men who believe that Mexicans have a right to be in the United States without U.S. government permission were more than twice as likely to plan to cross illegally, the study showed. That belief was especially common among men who thought that Mexicans or immigrants with darker skin were not treated fairly by U.S. immigration enforcement.
If Mexican migrants also question the fairness of U.S. immigration laws, “it allows them to see this particular law as not worthy of obedience,” Ryo said. They see violating the law as justified.
The study also found that people who have friends or family who have tried to cross illegally are much more likely to plan to do the same — a sign that some communities may have developed a “culture of migration” that makes it a rite of passage for young men, Ryo suggested.