Mexican Policy and Mexico – U.S. Migration (Working Paper #167)

Agustín Escobar Latapí, CIESAS Occidente, Mexico.

Introduction: Mexico – U.S. migration has gradually become one of the largest such flows in the world today. It is characterized by its extremely long history and persistence regardless of numerous policy changes in the United States, especially IRCA, new border enforcement strategies and acts of Congress, such as the immigration, welfare and anti-terrorism bills of 1996, massive growth in the U.S. Border Patrol staff and budget, or the Real ID act of 2005. This study emphasizes that, while U.S. policy could develop a much better approach to regulate this flow, reforms are likely to fail unless Mexico plays a role in two respects: Firstly, to contribute to the regular character of the flow, which would impact Mexican migrants in a very positive sense.  Secondly, to enhance the internal developmental impact of emigration. I agree with Phil Martin (this volume)  in the sense that development, not the export of labor, is and should be, to a much greater extent than today,  Mexico’s overriding goal and policy objective. To quote a well-known Mexican economist, Mexico urgently needs a development policy to guide, and make sense of, economic, social and decentralization efforts. This chapter concentrates on Mexican policies relating to migration: their current nature, quality, and impacts, and their potential within a broad, articulated Mexican stance towards emigration.

Mexico has developed a number of policies that could contribute significantly to the regulation of emigration. These policies and programs must be considerably strengthened and expanded, and some components must be added or perfected. These policies and programs, however, will not be of much consequence without three additional elements. The first is a Mexican vision of the role migration can play in Mexican development. This vision should serve to articulate the various components of this comprehensive policy, and the subsequent implementation of specific incentives for specific kinds of migration, together with appropriate dis-incentives for those deemed undesirable. The second is an economic policy leading to sustained economic and employment growth. The third is U.S. collaboration. The current two-sided U.S. policy, which favors some barriers to illegal entry and places increasing restrictions on social services and means of identification but, at the same time, fosters the employment of undocumented immigrants, will thwart any Mexican efforts to collaborate in the promotion of legal migration. Legal avenues for migration must be made available to migrants who know employers wish to hire them, and their cost/benefit assessments must unequivocally favor legal migration. At the same time, employers must be able to take advantage of these new and enhanced avenues for the employment of immigrants, and they must conclude hat the employment of unauthorized workers is not worthwhile.

There are three main areas in which we believe Mexican policy should be developed to achieve the twin goals of regulation and enhanced development. The first is development. The second has to do with social policies that should reduce poverty and inequality in Mexico, and improve access to basic lifetime assets. The third, finally, consists of the development of migration management policies and programs, including those relating to the Mexican diaspora.

Note: Taken from Agustin Escobar and Susan Martin (coord.), Mexico – U.S. Migration Management: A Binational Approach, to be published in 2008 by Rowman-Littlefield under the Lexington Books imprint.

Working Paper #167 »

Mexico – U.S. migration has gradually become one of the largest such flows in the world today. It is
characterized by its extremely long history and persistence regardless of numerous policy changes in the
United States, especially IRCA, new border enforcement strategies and acts of Congress, such as the
immigration, welfare and anti-terrorism bills of 1996, massive growth in the U.S. Border Patrol staff and
budget, or the Real ID act of 2005. This study emphasizes that, while U.S. policy could develop a much better
approach to regulate this flow, reforms are likely to fail unless Mexico plays a role in two respects: Firstly, to
contribute to the regular character of the flow, which would impact Mexican migrants in a very positive sense.
Secondly, to enhance the internal developmental impact of emigration. I agree with Phil Martin (this volume)
in the sense that development, not the export of labor, is and should be, to a much greater extent than today,
Mexico’s overriding goal and policy objective. To quote a well-known Mexican economist, Mexico urgently needs a development policy to guide, and make sense of, economic, social and decentralization efforts.2 This
chapter concentrates on Mexican policies relating to migration: their current nature, quality, and impacts, and
their potential within a broad, articulated Mexican stance towards emigration.
Mexico has developed a number of policies that could contribute significantly to the regulation of
migration. These policies and programs must be considerably strengthened and expanded, and some
components must be added or perfected. These policies and programs, however, will not be of much
consequence without three additional elements. The first is a Mexican vision of the role migration can play in
Mexican development. This vision should serve to articulate the various components of this comprehensive
policy, and the subsequent implementation of specific incentives for specific kinds of migration, together with
appropriate dis-incentives for those deemed undesirable. The second is an economic policy leading to
sustained economic and employment growth. The third is U.S. collaboration. The current two-sided U.S.
policy, which favors some barriers to illegal entry and places increasing restrictions on social services and
means of identification but, at the same time, fosters the employment of undocumented immigrants, will
thwart any Mexican efforts to collaborate in the promotion of legal migration. Legal avenues for migration
must be made available to migrants who know employers wish to hire them, and their cost/benefit
assessments must unequivocally favor legal migration. At the same time, employers must be able to take
advantage of these new and enhanced avenues for the employment of immigrants, and they must conclude
that the employment of unauthorized workers is not worthwhile.
There are three main areas in which we believe Mexican policy should be developed to achieve the twin
goals of regulation and enhanced development. The first is development. The second has to do with social
policies that should reduce poverty and inequality in Mexico, and improve access to basic lifetime assets. The
third, finally, consists of the development of migration management policies and programs, including those
relating to the Mexican diaspora.