Everything you know about immigration is wrong
By Ezra Klein, Published: AUGUST 10, 7:00 AM ET

Everything you know about immigration, particularly unauthorized immigration, is wrong.

So says Princeton University’s Doug Massey, anyway. Massey is one of the nation’s preeminent immigration scholars. And he thinks we’ve wasted a whole lot of money on immigration policy and are about to waste a whole lot more.

Massey slices the history of Mexico-to-U.S. migration in five periods. Early in the 20th century, there was the era of “the hook,” when Japan stopped sending workers to the U.S. and the mining, agriculture and railroad industries begged Mexican laborers to replace them. It’s called “the hook” because laborers were recruited with promises of high wages, signing bonuses, transportation and lodging, most of which either never materialized or were deducted from their paychecks.

Then, during the Roaring Twenties, came “flood tide” — almost 650,000 Mexican workers came legally, causing the number of Mexicans in the U.S. to rocket to almost 750,000 in 1929 from 100,000 in 1900.

The Great Depression ended all that. Jobless Americans took out their anger on jobless Mexicans, and thus began the “era of deportations.” From 1929 to 1939, 469,000 Mexicans were expelled from the U.S.; by 1940, the Mexican-born population had fallen to 377,000.

Enter World War II. With so many American men fighting overseas, Mexican labor was once again in high demand. The U.S. and Mexico negotiated the Bracero Program, which gave Mexican workers access to temporary U.S. visas. That kicked off the “Bracero era.” In 1945, the program brought in 50,000 Mexican guest workers. By 1956, it was up to 445,000. Mexico was also freed from quota limitations on legal immigration, so by 1963, more than 50,000 Mexicans were immigrating each year. With so many legal ways to enter the country, illegal immigration was virtually unknown.

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