Migration is a central issue of concern in North America. As a rule, Mexico is a sending country; its continental partners are receiving countries. Canada is known for its liberal policies regarding asylum-seekers and refugees; the US, because of the border proximity, draws a greater number of economic and voluntary migrants, both legal and illegal. (See the Human Migration edition of the World Savvy Monitor).
Mexican emigration to the United States is one of the most highly politically and emotionally charged migration flows in the 21st Century. Mexican-born immigrants make up 30% of American’s foreign-born population, 9% of people residing in the US are of Mexican descent, and 10% of all Mexican citizens live in the United States. Over half million immigrants from Mexico arrive legally or illegally in the US in any given year, joining the estimated 12 million already in the country. This trend is currently on the decline, however, due to the US recession. Fewer people are risking illegal entry; more are returning home to Mexico, unable to find work in the US.
Impact of Migration to the US on Mexico
People who leave Mexico for the United States are generally fleeing poverty and pursuing economic opportunity.
- In relieving the pressure created by large groups of unemployed men and women, migration to the US is beneficial to Mexico.
- Migration also benefits Mexico in the form of remittances, money sent home by family members working in the US. Remittances make up a substantial portion of the Mexican economy.
- Workers that return seasonally or cyclically to Mexico from the US often bring new technologies and expertise to domestic industries.
- Although many Mexican immigrants are low-skilled workers in search of agriculture, manufacturing, and service industry jobs, some migrants are skilled and educated workers which Mexico does not want to lose.
- The factors that drive large numbers of migrants to make the journey to the US also impact population distribution in Mexico. Many flock to border towns in hopes of getting the chance to cross over. Border cities struggle to support these transient, temporary populations, and jobs are not always available for those seeking work while they wait for an opportunity to cross the border.
- The congregation of more and more people in border cities has translated into environmental damage as well as security concerns.
- The presence of numerous armed US and Mexican border patrol officials, as well as drug cartels and human smugglers, further destabilizes the situation in border towns.
US Responses to Mexican Immigration
Because so many Mexican immigrants are illegal or undocumented, their entry has triggered a variety of government and popular responses aimed at curbing entry of Mexicans into the US.
- There is the perception that these workers take American jobs away from American workers, although research has shown that Mexican immigrants are often employed in sectors where it can be difficult to recruit American labor, including low-end manufacturing, home health care, domestic services, agriculture, and construction.
- Other criticism surrounds the use of public services by Mexican undocumented immigrants, as evidenced in California’s Proposition 187 that seeks to limit public education and health care for non-citizens. However, new research suggests that illegal immigrants possibly pay more in US taxes than they consume in services.
- Demographers point out that the influx of young, healthy laborers into the US from Mexico will help to counteract a potential population decline in the US, something currently occurring in parts of Europe, as well as in Russia and Japan. Migrant contributions to the social security system help offset the benefits taken by the aging native-born US population.
Despite such evidence to the contrary, many in the US perceive Mexican immigration as a burden on the economy. Culturally and socially as well, many are uncomfortable with the rising Latino population, especially in the American Southwest. This has led to:
- Contentious debates within the US Congress about immigration policy. In 2006, a Bush-proposed immigration reform bill was defeated. The bill included, among other things, citizenship provisions for many types of immigrants already in the country illegally.
- The construction of a physical barrier or border fence along the US-Mexico frontier designed to prevent illegal crossings. Along with this partially completed fence has come a three-fold increase in border officials, with up to nine agents per mile along the 2000 mile border and nine million watch hours per year. With costs running up to $12 billion, and less than one-third of the border covered, most believe it is unlikely that the 16 foot high fence will ever be completed.
- Minuteman patrols and civilian militias that bring US citizens into the fray. In addition to the increased government patrols, many US residents living near the border have mobilized, many of them with arms, to prevent illegal crossings.
Experts such as those at the Brookings Institution and Wilson Center have called for collaborative, bilateral bodies to manage the US-Mexico border, encouraging comprehensive dialogue to address the variety of push and pull factors driving immigration. Realists note that no amount of border security short of shutting down a vital trade route will prevent crossings and that the US is unlikely to be able to repatriate Mexicans who have already entered the country illegally. They call for measures to address poverty and job creation in Mexico so that would-be migrants will remain home. They also call for legalizing immigrants in the US to bring them into society as full taxpayers and stakeholders.
Next: Mexico in the Context of North America: Energy