Proponents of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have been insisting that the pact will cut illegal immigration. Their rationale: A faster growing Mexican economy will lift jobs and wages, reducing the lure of the border. Over the long run, they may be right, but over the next 5 to 10 years, immigration may go up, says agricultural economist Philip L. Martin of the Institute for International Economics.
His reasons? As NAFTA opens agricultural trade between the two nations, products from efficient U.S. farms will enter Mexico and throw low-productivity Mexican farmers out of work. These displaced Mexicans are likely to find their way north. Workers from southern Mexico will also be attracted to job growth along the country's northern border, where "stepping-stone migration" into the U.S. is more tempting. In all, Martin expects that NAFTA could result in a 10% rise in Mexican immigration.