It’s not only poor who are com­ing to U.S.

San Francisco Chronicle - - WORLD - McClatchy-Tri­bune News Ser­vice

MEXICO CITY — If Don­ald Trump thinks all Mex­i­can mi­grants are crim­i­nals, it’s be­cause he hasn’t met the likes of Pablo Meyer, a com­pu­ta­tional bi­ol­o­gist, or En­rico Ramirez Ruiz, an as­tro­physi­cist.

They are two of the thou­sands of Mex­i­cans with doc­tor­ates who’ve left their home­land, mostly for the United States, in a brain drain that saps Mex­i­can academia of su­per-hot minds.

Some of them sought jobs in Mexico and couldn’t find them, se­cur­ing slots in­stead on the fac­ul­ties of U.S. univer­si­ties. Oth­ers long to re­turn. Still oth­ers did come back, only to get fed up with bu­reau­cracy or dis­gusted by crime and re­turn to the United States, where academia and in­dus­try rec­og­nize tal­ent with­out re­gard to cit­i­zen­ship.

It’s the flip side of pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump’s calls for higher bor­der walls to keep Mex­i­can im­mi­grants out. Highly skilled Mex­i­cans also travel north and are met with open arms. By one es­ti­mate, 11,000 Mex­i­cans with doc­toral de­grees re­side and work in the United States. Another es­ti­mate says 27 per­cent of all Mex­i­cans who hold such de­grees work north of the bor­der.

The United States reaps clear ben­e­fit from such an ex­o­dus.

“Amer­i­cans are free riders in terms of Mex­i­can brains,” said Mauri­cio Teno­rio Trillo, a Mex­i­can his­to­rian at the Univer­sity of Chicago who got his master’s and doc­tor­ate at Stan­ford Univer­sity.

One of those brains re­sides in the head of Pablo Meyer, 38, whose aca­demic path led him from Mexico to France and on to Rock­e­feller Univer­sity in New York City, where he got a doc­tor­ate delv­ing into the mys­ter­ies of gene se­quenc­ing. His Ph.D. in hand, Meyer ar­rived back in Mexico to look for a job. He went to the Na­tional Medicine and Ge­nomics In­sti­tute, the In­sti­tute of Cel­lu­lar Phys­i­ol­ogy and to the Cen­ter for Re­search and Ad­vanced Stud­ies at the Na­tional Poly­tech­nic In­sti­tute.

“There were no open po­si­tions,” Meyer re­called. “Older peo­ple were not re­tir­ing, and there was no fund­ing for new po­si­tions.”

Rec­og­niz­ing Meyer’s sharp in­tel­lect, the Thomas J. Wat­son Re­search Cen­ter, part of IBM Re­search, hired him for a re­search po­si­tion at its lab in York­town, N.Y., where he stud­ies meta­bolic net­works and is part of a team with a patent pend­ing.

Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto pledges to boost gov­ern­ment spend­ing on science and tech­nol­ogy to the equiv­a­lent of 1 per­cent of the gross na­tional prod­uct by the end of his term in 2018. It’s barely over half a per­cent­age point now.

The sprawl­ing Na­tional Au­ton­o­mous Univer­sity of Mexico, con­sid­ered the big­gest and per­haps the best univer­sity in the Span­ish-speak­ing world, has 229,000 un­der­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate stu­dents. It draws science, en­gi­neer­ing and med­i­cal stu­dents from around the hemi­sphere.

Other univer­si­ties in Mexico’s largest cities rou­tinely send their best stu­dents on to Ivy League univer­si­ties in the United States and top univer­si­ties in Europe.

Still, sci­en­tists who have left Mexico, and ed­u­ca­tional ex­perts who study the ex­o­dus, see Mexico’s univer­si­ties as part of the prob­lem. Bu­reau­cracy, pol­i­tics and gov­ern­ment pres­sures all con­strain re­search at Mex­i­can univer­si­ties.

“You don’t have enough money to buy ma­te­ri­als and chem­i­cals to do your work. Some­times, you don’t have the time to do your work,” said Je­sus Ve­lasco, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist now at Tar­leton State Univer­sity in Stephenville, Texas, who has writ­ten ex­ten­sively about the brain drain.

Jorge Soberon, a the­o­ret­i­cal ecol­o­gist, aban­doned a 30-year aca­demic ca­reer in Mexico City a few years ago to take a se­nior post at the Univer­sity of Kansas in Lawrence.

“Mov­ing from Mexico City to Lawrence in Kansas was very dif­fer­ent in terms of stress and traf­fic,” Soberon said.

Since he moved to Kansas, other Mex­i­can aca­demics are pes­ter­ing him.

“I have friends call­ing me. ‘How did you do it? How can I do it?’ ” he said.

Elena Zhukova/UC Santa Cruz / McClatchy-Tri­bune News Ser­vice

En­rico Ramirez Ruiz (in rear at right) over­sees stu­dents in a class at UC Santa Cruz. He's among the many Mex­i­can aca­demics who have sought ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties in the United States.

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