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