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The Impact of Immigration Laws on U.S. Divorce Rates: Evidence from Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act




Seidman College of Business

Date Range



Changes in immigration laws that provide an opportunity for undocumented immigrants to become legal immigrants have been shown to substantially impact U.S. marriage rates (Smith Kelly, 2010; Dalmia & Smith Kelly, forthcoming). Given this fact the big question is, are these marriages of convenience or not? In an attempt to answer the question, this study will examine the divorce propensity of residents in different sizes of immigrant-population counties before and after the immigration law change in 1994. If the spike in the marriage rates was a result of marriages of convenience, then we expect the immigration law change to also influence the U.S. divorce rates after undocumented immigrants have obtained their legal residence status (green card). In other words, undocumented immigrants who entered marriages of convenience would have the incentive to leave such arrangements after they have obtained their legal residence status. If the marriages that occurred during the immigration law change window were not marriages of convenience then the divorce rates should be unaffected. Undocumented and documented immigrants are spreading over more regions; however, the principal states where they reside are California, Texas, New York, Florida, New Jersey and Illinois (Passel et al., 2004). These states are the immigrant receiving states that will be examined. They were chosen for their large immigration population and availability of the required data.

Conference Name

Western Economic Association International

Conference Location

San Diego, CA

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