The challenges of being a migrant do not end with entry into the US.
For those migrants who are already present in the US, status issues are a primary concern. These reflect the inability to function properly owing to a lack of legal status, including difficulties in obtaining a driver's license or legal work, renting a dwelling, obtaining a phone, and other similar constraints. This category also includes the risk of deportation, about 2% / year from the interior of the US, and the stress of being unable to be with relatives and friends who have stayed behind in Mexico or Central America. Our analysis puts these costs, all in, adjusted for risk and demographics, at about $1.00 / hour of labor.
Wage Risks are a type of status risk, but they represent the specific probability of being underpaid agreed wages by an employer. This seems to be a material risk facing migrants in the US. Unscrupulous employers, it seems, capture about as much of the value of illegal immigration as do migrants themselves. We estimate this cost at $1.00 / hour of labor on average.
Utilization Risks revolve around the cost of being unemployed but trapped in the US. Perversely, tight border control will tend to increase the resident population of illegal migrants, because once a migrant has returned to Mexico, coming back to the US may prove daunting. Therefore, those who are in the US will tend to stay in the US, even if they would prefer to go back to Mexico. As with wage risks, utilizaton risks also seem to be a major cost item statistically. For example, a large number of those employed in seasonal work would likely leave the US if they knew they could return on demand. We believe this might affect 1.0-1.5 m, typically unaccompanied men.
We estimate utilization risks, allocated across the entire working migrant population on an annual basis, at $1.20 / working hour. This reflects a loss of income during the winter months, on the one hand, and an inability to reduce daily costs by going back to Mexico, on the other.
All these costs together, on an annualized risk-adjusted basis, amount to about $3.20 / working hour, or about one-third of the typical wages which Mexicans and Central Americans might otherwise receive in the United States.
Of course, these costs are not evenly distributed across the migrant population. Black markets by their nature deliver extremes: death, kidnapping and forced prostitution for those who fail, and solid wages for those who succeed. Illegal immigrants with good employers and year-round work may find their situation relatively satisfactory. Those who face sporadic or seasonal employment, and are unluckly enough to sign with unscrupulous employers, may find that their gamble to come to the US has not paid off, and even so are unable to leave the country, for fear of never being able to return.