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Saturn Smith

Saturn Smith

Saturn Smith
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Editor’s Pick
JULY 7, 2011 3:03PM

Is lower immigration from Mexico a good thing?

Rate: 13 Flag

A story in The New York Times yesterday discussed how immigration from Mexico to the United States has actually fallen to the lowest level since the 1950s. Someone, somewhere, is surprised about why:

The extraordinary Mexican migration that delivered millions of illegal immigrants to the United States over the past 30 years has sputtered to a trickle, and research points to a surprising cause: unheralded changes in Mexico that have made staying home more attractive.

This might be surprising to those who fail to really think about immigration, but it should otherwise hardly be news to anyone else. When conditions in your home are better than conditions abroad, you want to stay home. The real food for thought in this piece should be, hey! What's so screwed up about the United States right now that fewer people want to come and live here? Instead, the news hook seems to be the same old charge: there's all this "trouble" with immigration.

I want to say this up front: There is a gigantic difference between saying the United States has an immigration problem (we do) and the United States has an immigrant problem. The first implies a breakdown in the system -- which is undeniable, when it takes years or decades for people to receive visas. The second implies that there is some evil being perpetrated upon the United States by those that cross a border to get here -- and this has been proven false again and again [PDF].

With that as a backdrop, then, is it preferable that fewer Mexican citizens make their way to the United States each year? No. Is it preferable that our southern neighbor is a better place to live for its citizens? Absolutely!

Now, there are two schools of thought about how best to make Mexico seem more inviting than the United States for its citizens. The first school relies upon making the U.S. seem less than welcoming; the second relies upon, you know, actually making things better in Mexico.

Well, why not make Mexico a better place to live? Yes, there are many sticky and icky nation-building/arrogant First World Foreva places one could go with that thought, but there's also the path of least resistance and most profit: the path of making certain that the world's richest democracy sometimes extends a hand of friendship instead of a shove to its southern neighbor.

Please, let us take a moment to consider what the world would look like if half the energy that was poured in to creating, defending, and enforcing the anti-immigration laws in Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas had instead been put toward, say, encouraging a better U.S.-Mexican friendship.

What constitutes friendship? Easier access, perhaps, to visas for Mexican scholars who want to pursue higher education -- or who want to become educators. One of the things that's convincing Mexican residents to stay in Mexico is the availability of better schools for their children:

Still, education represents the most meaningful change. The census shows that throughout Jalisco, the number of senior high schools or preparatory schools for students aged 15 to 18 increased to 724 in 2009, from 360 in 2000, far outpacing population growth.

But wait, there's more:

Though Mexicans with Ph.D.’s tend to leave for bigger paychecks abroad, “if you have a college degree you’re much more likely to stay in Mexico because that is surely more valuable in Mexico,” said Jeffrey S. Passel, a demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center.

(You know what warms the cockles of my immigration-loving, college-teacher heart? The image of freshly-minted American college graduates sneaking across the Mexican border, looking for a place that still values the bachelor's degree.)

I'd love to see the immigration debate become fact-based instead of emotion-based, and articles like this do give me hope. Neither statistics nor experience demonstrate that increased immigration from Mexico is a bad thing for the United States. What I'm afraid of, though, is that any decrease in immigration will be seen through the lens of "solving a problem," and that it will give further fuel to those who would make certain the argument for expanded immigration limits is an argument based in bigotry.

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This is an intelligent examination of the subject of Mexican immigration from one angle. The subject deserves intelligent examination from several other different but related angles, too.

However, in the future dearth of responses to your excellent essay--even featured as it is with an Editor's Pick--I believe that you will acquire a grasp of the profound indifference, the breathtaking lack of interest or even curiosity, of the general norteamericano public with regard anything having to do with Mexico or any their neighbors to the south for that matter . . . with one exception. They do occasionally like to read a short, gory piece about violence in Mexico, then shake their heads, and move on.
Latin American countries are moving upwards and the U.S. is moving downwards. Maybe that wall at the border will come in handy even after Mexicans are no longer trying to sneak into the U.S.......because the opposite will be happening. Well-to-do educated Mexicans will be looking for someone to tend lawns and pick vegetables, and their own people won't do it cuz they'll have better paying jobs in factories... However, perhaps there will be better relations between the two countries anyway, due to the high Mexican population in the U.S. Hell, maybe the border will be eliminated...
during the black death in britain, the proportion of subjects to aristocracy fell markedly, poor people then as now lived in more unsanitary conditions, so they died.

in the ensuing 50 years, the dearth of labor raised living conditions markedly for the lower class, simply because there were fewer of them.

labor today is still a commodity, and immigration is only a good thing for the upper part of society. for the lowers, it inevitably drives down wages.

whatever the reason for reduced mexican immigration, it's a godsend for burger flippers and house maids.
Thoughtful, informative, lucidly argued. For me, you ask the key question: "What's so screwed up about the United States right now that fewer people want to come and live here?" And this is a penetrating perception: "I want to say this up front: There is a gigantic difference between saying the United States has an immigration problem (we do) and the United States has an immigrant problem." Thanks for this, Saturn; it helps me think about this often acerbic issue.
"Neither statistics nor experience demonstrate that increased immigration from Mexico is a bad thing for the United States."

Well . . . I'm not so sure about that. I live in an area that has had a significant increase in immigration from Mexico. It is not uncommon for immigrants to have a very low level of education. Some are not even literate in Spanish. When they try to learn English but can't even read or write in Spanish, learning English is extremely difficult. I've known people who have been here for fifteen years or more who cannot read, write, or speak English.

Immigrant parents often bring their children here in the hope that their children will have a better life. But the poor educational preparation of the parents reduces the chance that the children will be successful. Parents want their children to be successful in school, but the parents don't really know what that means, or what it requires.

So you end up with families from Mexico gathered around the TV watching novelas (soap operas) and variety shows (e.g. Don Francisco's Sabado Gigante) in Spanish, on the Univision channel while the children should be doing homework and the parents should be going to ESL class.

In addition, cultural traditions from the home country die hard. I know one family that had four girls, ages from 6 to 14 when the family arrived here. The girls had every educational advantage including ESL classes and special subject matter classes designed to help them catch up. All four girls got pregnant and dropped out of high school.

Poorly educated parents combined with large families is a recipe for disaster on a number of levels -- poverty, teenage pregnancy (children having more children), poor performance in school, alcoholism, and children being recruited into gangs are just some of the consequences. Families in this situation can require a large amount of social services just to get by, and sometimes even that is not enough.

I don't want to be overly gloomy, and certainly some families do thrive here. But at this point in our history we have an economy that requires high-level skills and is unforgiving to those who don't have them. So we have to be realistic about the consequences of what happens when millions of poorly educated people who don't know the language try to make a life here.
I'm not surprised that they want to stay home; I've known that for years although i wouldn't since I'm not accustomed to their climate I wish them the best.

However this should be a little surprising in light of the stories their telling about the drug war and how it is allegedly escalating on the border with Mexico. If it is so bad you would think more Mexicans are trying to get away from it. I suspect this may be an exaggeration for political reasons as well.
Here's the facts;

http://pewhispanic.org/reports/report.php?ReportID=104
Thanks, Butch, for posting
http://pewhispanic.org/reports/report.php?ReportID=104
The increase in federal crime by Hispanics has come from an increase in immigration prosecution. So, while we are busy protecting the border, Saturn Smith is correct in her analysis. Most of the offenders are non-violent and were charge with just being in the country:

"Among sentenced immigration offenders, most were convicted of unlawfully entering or remaining in the U.S. Fully 75% of Latino offenders sentenced for immigration crimes in 2007 were convicted of entering the U.S. unlawfully or residing in the country without authorization."

With the decrease in immigration, this seems to be a waste of money.
Sad but often true, Brassawe. To me it just means we should talk about more than violence, right?
It's not just bigotry, but a fact of life that when "natives" feel like they are a minority, there is a reaction, and this happens everywhere, which is why there is an optmimum amount of immigration everywhere, in which per Amy Chua and Day of Empire, you keep the glue together. Amy Chua's discussion of that issue is the best I have seen, and she is Chinese descent, if better known for Tiger Mom or whatever. Mexico being a happier place is not a bad thing, if one knows how to do such a thing, not so easy in general, although, it would seem that in general in much, although not all, of Latin America, the disctintion among the blancos, mestizos, and indios is where you look, which has rather deep roots.
As someone who has been traveling to and from Mexico for 30 or more years, who has relatives there, and who has worked among the rural poor there, I can only speak from experience, not research.

My take on the slowdown in immigration is that it is more a function of the dearth of low level/manual labor jobs in the United States. The sputtering U.S. economy is simply not producing the jobs most likely to be taken by Hispanics. Furthermore, the number if jobs that do exist are being filled by immigrants who are already here.

Your point, though, about potential immigrants preferring home to immigration is certainly valid. As I've said so many times before, Mexicans aren't so much being pushed out of their own country as they are being sucked into the States by the prospect of steady work. And when that vacuum slows down the inevitable decrease in the human flow happens.

Though strides may have been made in education there, it is really about the grinding poverty, the lack of work, particularly in the poorer states like Michoacán or Jalisco where, for many, there is no alternative but for families to split up, the males heading to the States to support those left behind. And indeed, sometimes whole families make that trip to "El Norte" to begin anew.

The sad fact is that in my own 30 year experience, I have not ever seen a marked change in how Mexico is governed. It is still a heavily stratified nation of haves and have-nothings. No Mexican president I know of has ever left office less than a multi-millionaire, regardless of the party in power. And, once achieved, power among the lesser governmental lights is a very heady thing, with most paying more attention to feathering their own bed than working for a better country. I have seen it at both the federal, state and local level there. When you are starving, the first order of business is to fill your own belly, ideals be damned!

American conservatives are using immigration as another arrow in their quiver to generate fear (and loathing) - and votes. And it works, as we've seen. White Americans have a rich and well documented history of xenophobia, starting with the earliest days of the republic. Ironically, some of the loudest anti-immigrant voices are sons and daughters of recent immigrants themselves.

That said, the complexion of our country is getting darker indeed. And, as we've done before, we will transition through it but not without more than a little discomfort.
I still don't open your links. But, I can and I will. This was interesting to me. I still think of the 100s dead on the way to America from downlow are still. Bereft. Dying to get in is a reality. Desperate to not get "carded" is still on going.

I think it is wrong for you to only talk about the educated. The USof A was built on the underclass sweat and tears.

I do not think LIFTING up one subgroup- bachelors who stay in Mexico is actually LIFTING up.

A Mexican that cleans my toliets is equal to the one who writes a upper graduated paper on Mexican college students who return home, and find themselves disenchanted and then immigrant to Paris, France.

You cannot LIFT one piece and wonder at the gaps. Logically it does not work- even if you take away feeling to logically state preference is narrow- very narrow.
The fact is that immigration is and has been used by companies as a means of importing undocumented scab-labor into the US, with which to smash the bargaining power of unions.

I'm all for immigration, provided that they unionize in given industries.

But since unionization is basically dead, the result will be a lowering of US wages in certain industries, like construction, agriculture and the like.

On the other hand, this pushes down costs. But what difference do lower costs make, if American consumers have no jobs?
Mexico basically needs a Hugo Chavez-type man to lead them. Pancho Villa and Zapata were awesome and they destroyed the corrupt Porfirio regime, which was slowly turning Mexico into an extension of US commercial interests.

Mexico serves the same purpose today, via NAFTA.

Mexican nationalism and progressive politics go hand and hand. Internationalism and right-wing corporate exploitation also go hand and hand.
The only thing I ever agreed with W on was his policy on immigration. Face it. Americans are not going to pick your strawberries. Fruit will rot on the vine before we see the migrant worker network filled with the descendents of the Joads from the Grapes of Wrath. The bracero program worked quite well in the 1950s, and a guest agricultural worker program with strict wage and occupational health and safety standards would fill a vital economic need in this country.

Unfortunately, a combination of racism and legitimate worry about the erosion of Americans' job security makes it almost impossible to get the kind of immigration reform that was proposed by both W and Obama. And for the time being, the relative well being of the Mexican and American economies internally will be the most powerful mover of immigration from the south.

And by the way, Mexico has a significant illegal alien problem from Central America, with border controls on its southern border as repressive as our border controls.
Thanks ever much for posting this. Immigration is vital to this country. It's what has literally made America great. Unfortunately, there's too much racism in the Northwest. Many Oregonians actually hate Mexicans, and don't even talk about Arizona!

Demographically speaking, when we're all in the home, we'll need to be wheeled around by Hispanics as that'll be the only thing keeping us alive. They are the future of the USA. And I am looking forward to a President Rodriguez.
Who could have imagined this...WOW
In my life, I have seen an incredible reduction in open space. It's particularly notable in Maine. What used to be nature, left to wildlife is now housing development or strip mall.

If we want to preserve open spaces and the environment, we need to stop population growth. Since around 80% of projected population growth comes from immigrants and their children, to curb population growth, we need to curb immigration.

Most guest worker schemes don't work. The guest workers don't go back home and their children tend to view the host country as home, not their "native" country.
The world is changing.
People who wanted to live in the USA are now thinking they are better off in their own country.
Interesting information and I like your distinction between immigrants and immigration as as being a problem.
My own opinion is that the lack of immigrants from Mexico will be a problem for the U.S. - and I'm not talking about not being able to find a yard man - because immigrants bring energy and diversity to the community.
I live in Georgia. I have no figures, but I think there are definitely fewer Hispanic people in our community. It has affected businesses that hire day laborers to the point that some have said they may have to close unless the law is changed. R
depends on economical situation inside the US and unemployment level. No one wants to loose it's job.
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I would appreciate any help in understanding how this Blogg and Topic discussions work with each other and how to import either! I did my pregraduate thesis on "The Negative Impact of the Undocumented Mexican Immigrants on the United States Social and Economic Infrastructures". I did some thorough research and investigating utilizing state and federal programs designed to identify and account the growth and integration of the illegal mexican immigrant within our nation.
I was able to directly identify and account for specific problems arising from the illegal and rising exodus of mexican illegals into our nation and their impact on our federal funded Medical and State funded assistance programs. I would hope that the alarming facts and figures alarmed our own government as it did I. My www.open.salon.com/blog/deani82 will open your eyes to the magnitude of what is happening within our great nation and hopefully inspire people and motivate some to assist me in taking the appropriate actions.
We'll there's a lot of reasons why people keep on migrating.
But I don't really know how citizenship started, and what's the real law regarding with it. Any idea? Share.
Thanks for this post, it made me think.

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