Essays on Immigration Economics

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Rionero, Giuseppe
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Middle Tennessee State University
The three questions I study in this dissertation relate to many topics in the area of immigration economics but they can be categorized into two main areas: illegal immigration and immigrant assimilation. In the first chapter I use a regulatory change to investigate the effect of unauthorized immigrants' driving behavior on road safety indicators. The last two chapters tackle two different questions relevant to the issue of immigrant assimilation, the first from an empirical point of view and the second from a theoretical perspective.
The first paper studies the policy followed by most states in the United States of barring unauthorized immigrants from getting driver's licenses. Before 2001, many states did license all immigrants (legal and illegal). After the attacks of 9/11 most states introduced stricter standards and procedures for issuing driver's licenses. I take advantage of the likely exogeneity of these changes in licensing regulation to identify the effect of this policy on the number of fatal traffic accidents and hit-and-run wrecks over the period between 2000 and 2009. I find that, contrary to what is commonly assumed in policy discussions, restricting the issuance of licenses to undocumented immigrants reduces slightly the number of fatal crashes in states with low immigrant populations, but increases the number of hit-and-run crashes.
In the second chapter I investigate a question related to the experience of children of immigrants living in two American cities with high immigrant density. High school employment has been shown to impact favorably early labor market outcomes for native youths. Since economic theory suggests that children of immigrants may stand to benefit more than natives from human capital obtained from working while in school, I test whether this same pattern is observable in the case of children of immigrants. Results indicate that high school employment has a small effect only on wages and it is very heterogeneous. In particular, the wage benefit is restricted to male students and American children of immigrants.
The third chapter keeps the focus on immigrant assimilation, but now from an intergenerational perspective. Recent research in economics has identified a fall in the rate of economic assimilation among recent cohorts of immigrants to the United States. The slower assimilation seems to occur both within and across generations. One proposed explanation to explain this fact centers on immigrant settlement in ethnic enclaves and the resultant lower incentives to acquire skills and knowledge relevant to the U.S. labor market, particularly the English language. However, it has long been observed by linguists that immigrant groups tend to lose their first language fairly rapidly across generations, often as early as the third generation. This chapter proposes to investigate the link between ethnic enclaves and language assimilation in the context of a model of intergenerational language assimilation where ethnic concentration is possible.