In Other Words Mexican Migration to the United States: Perspectives from Both Sides of the Border, edited by Harriett D. Romo & Olivia Mogollon-Lopez
For all the ink spilled over immigration and U.S.Mexico border issues in this country, we hear precious little from Mexico’s policy wonks on the subject. In this new anthology, Mexican researchers and public thinkers crunch the numbers and draw back the curtain on their own country’s estranged relationship to its U.S.-bound emigrants, as well as the government’s policy failures and economic stumbles that have created, as one author writes, “the deeply engrained culture of unauthorized migration.”
For starters, the emigration of Mexican nationals to the U.S., both authorized and unauthorized, is at a generational low. Not since the early 1970s have so few Mexican nationals been apprehended crossing the border by U.S. immigration authorities. In 2005, over a million Mexican immigrants were apprehended by U.S. officials; by 2011, that number was down to 286,000.
Francisco Alba, an economist and demographer at El Colegio de México, writes that this “will not be a temporary phenomenon — the U.S. great recession, increased U.S. border controls, lower fertility rates in Mexico, and increased work and educational opportunities for Mexican youth may be causing a longer-term shift in immigration patterns.”
In a good example of the binational thinking this book hopes to foster, Liliana Meza González, a senior researcher with Mexico’s federal Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, and Michael Feil, a retired U.S. Army deputy commander who has since consulted on a number of U.S.-Mexico security initiatives, collaborated on a research chapter that digs deep into Mexican municipal records to paint a socioeconomic picture of the affluent Mexicans who emigrated during the country’s drug cartel wars of the late 2000s.
The ongoing narco violence — which killed more than 60,000 of the country’s citizens between 2006 and 2012 — struck terror into the country’s elite, particularly along its northern frontier, as cartels began to target privileged youth for kidnappings in order to extort their parents for money. But as Feil and González conclude, “environments of insecurity may represent opportunity frameworks utilized by potential migrants but not necessarily by those in greatest danger.”
While the free-falling U.S. economy kept many workingclass Mexicans at home during a time of deadly violence, the relative safety of living north of the border was appealing to the affluent Mexicans who had the resources to move. This isn’t a pattern unique to Mexico. Citing previous research conducted among upper-class Haitians and Chileans who fled to the U.S. during times of political terror in their home countries, the authors write, “Migrations as a result of insecurity are more prevalent among people with higher socioeconomic status who have the resources to migrate internationally.” Alba also attempts to locate Mexico’s reaction to its own recent immigrants — the considerable volume of Central American refugees who have been arriving in Mexico, fleeing violence in their own home countries. “In 2011, Mexico enacted an unprecedented emigration law (Ley de Migración) to ensure humane treatment of migrants in the country,” Alba writes. The law “represents an attempt by the Mexican government to bring congruency to the way Mexico treats foreign migrants and the way it expects other countries to treat its migrant citizens abroad.”
With inbound Mexican migration to the U.S. at an all-time low, Alba believes it’s a ripe moment for both countries to resume the once-promising early-2001 talks of immigration reforms between then President George Bush and President Vicente Fox, which were derailed by the terrorist attacks of September 11.
Far from an open-borders advocate, Alba believes both countries have a responsibility to reduce unauthorized immigration as they defend the human rights of emigrants. For the U.S., Alba believes the American government has a responsibility to regulate and normalize the yearly influx of Mexican labor that agriculture and many other industries depend upon. For Mexico, he argues that the drastic slowdown in U.S.-bound emigration will force its government to reckon with its stagnating economy and its lack of transparency in its political and legal systems.
The book includes several features from American and Mexican-American academics that address undocumented college students, identity formation among female Mexican immigrants, and access to health care for the undocumented. But it is the anthology’s entries from Mexican policy wonks and immigration scholars that make it stand out in a very crowded field of books on U.S.-Mexico immigration policy and border issues.