Mexican Illegals are Like a Peace Corps Project

April/13/2012 16:59PM
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In the Peace Corps we send people to underdeveloped countries to teach them skills that they can use to help their standard of living. It’s the give a man a fish, teach a man to fish theory.  Now, several reports are being written suggesting Mexicans who come here illegally are taking skills learned here back home and improving their communities in Mexico. Kind of a reverse Peace Corps project. But, they leave here because the Obama economy won’t support jobs for them. And, they stay there because they are finding ways to scrape out an equal living back home. Mexico is looking better than America under Obama. Will Cuba begin to look better?

A reporter visits a small Mexican village , first in 2006, and again in 2011. Here is what he observes. In 2006 there is no running water, there is no school, there are no paved roads. It’s a village of less than 1,000 people. In 2006 there are few men of working age in the village.

Now, he visits again in 2011.


A simple water pipeline, installed in February, runs to each of the 50-some homes. On a recent day the first high school class, including eight students ages 15 to 40, was finishing up math homework. And now, the main roads are paved….

This is the new face of rural Mexico. Villages emptied out in the 1980s and ’90s in one of the largest waves of migration in history. Today there are clear signs that a human tide is returning to towns both small and large across Mexico.

One million Mexicans said they returned from the US between 2005 and 2010, according to a new demographic study of Mexican census data. That’s three times the number who said they’d returned in the previous five-year period.

And they aren’t just home for a visit: One prominent sociologist in the US has counted “net zero” migration for the first time since the 1960s.

Experts say the implications for both nations are enormous –from the draining of a labor pool in the US to the need for a radical shift in policies in Mexico, which has long depended on the billions of dollars in migrant remittances as a social welfare cornerstone…..

As is common throughout human history (though never as fast as we might wish), the general quality of life is improving down Mexico way:

Today in Mexico there is greater access to education, growing per capita income, and lower fertility rates – all making a life here more viable. In turn, a life in the shadows of the US, separated from family often for years, is less palatable.

“The calculation is finally making people come back and decide to stay in Mexico,” says Agustin Escobar, a demographer at the Center for Research in Social Anthropology in Guadalajara, Mexico….

At the macroeconomic level, Douglas Massey, founder of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton University, has documented what he calls “net zero” migration. The population of undocumented immigrants in the US fell from 12 million to approximately 11 million during the height of the financial crisis (2008-09), he says. And since then, Mexicans without documents aren’t migrating at rates to replace the loss, creating a net zero balance for the first time in 50 years…..

Tamaula is a small slice of Mexico, but a telling one:

Of Tamaula’s 100 men, about 10 have returned since 2007 – some willingly, like Pedro, and others because they lost jobs or didn’t get guest-worker visas and are no longer willing to go north illegally.

Not a single person interviewed in Tamaula said he or she would go illegally today. One of them is Jorge Laguna, a cousin of Pedro’s in Tamaula, a town made up of three extended families. He’d traveled annually to the US since 2005 as a temporary guest worker to toil as a gardener in Washington State, but this year he wasn’t asked back.

In the past he might have tried his luck illegally – as he did when he was 15, spending five consecutive years in Georgia before returning home to visit his family. What was there to lose? If he got caught crossing, he could turn around and try again. If he couldn’t find a job, he could come home or bide his time until the market rebounded. Now, at 28, he says he’s not willing to risk his life: Migrants – including two from a nearby village– have gone missing. Their suitcases showed up at bus stations in northern Mexico.

“The situation would have to be really dire for me to try to go illegally today,” Jorge says…

That fewer Mexicans are staying in America net is neither good nor bad in and of itself. It’s good that Mexico is a better place to live, good in general if this pattern is a reflection of people’s free choices, and maybe a little bit bad in a reflection of how little a land of opportunity America is right now. But this pattern is a solid sign that fears of immigration in the United States have moved into the realm of not just fear and ignorance, but pure fantasy.

Reason‘s classic 2006 cover story, “Immigration Now, Immigration Tomorrow, Immigration Forever.”

Bonus immigration link: comics on immigration, 1880-1910.

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