In this essay I discuss how and why U.S. policies intended to stop Latin American immigration to the United States not only failed, but proved counterproductive by ultimately accelerating the rate of both documented and undocumented migration from Mexico and Central America to the United States. As a result, the Latino population grew much faster than demographers had originally projected and the undocumented population grew to an unprecedented size. Mass illegality is now the greatest barrier to the successful integration of Latinos, and a pathway to legalization represents a critical policy challenge. If U.S. policy-makers wish to avoid the failures of the past, they must shift from a goal of immigration suppression to one of immigration management within an increasingly integrated North American market.
This essay reviews existing theories of professional emigration as background to examine the present situation. Classical theories of the brain drain neglected the possibility that immigrant professionals would return to their home countries and make significant investments and economic contributions there. They do, in fact, with beneficial consequences for the development of these countries. The advent of the transnational perspective in the field of immigration has helped clarify these dynamics, while identifying the conditions under which professional cyclical returns and knowledge transfers can take place. Implications for the future attraction of foreign professionals by the United States and other advanced countries are discussed.