Young men in Mexico say the US no longer offers them a better future

CCIS Associate Director, David FitzGerald, discusses the shifts in immigration from Mexico to the U.S.



Seismic shifts in immigration and demographics leave towns full of young men who once would have dreamed of the US

BY EDWARD HELMORE   APRIL 25, 2012

Border Immigration

Potential migrants say the US border crossing is not itself a dissuading factor, but racial discrimination and hostility are. Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters

In a typical year, the young men in this agricultural region of western Mexico would have made the journey north to America. But not this year or for this generation: a better future across the border is a promise they no longer trust.

“For years, we dreamed of America, but now that dream is no good,” says 18-year-old Pedro Morales, sitting in the elegant Spanish colonial square of Comala under the shadow of the spectacular Volcan de Fuego. “There are no jobs and too many problems. We don’t want to go.”

In an historic shift, the tide of immigration from Mexico to the US has stalled. Villages that were empty of young men are now full. A report published by the Pew Hispanic Center this week confirmed what was already anecdotally clear: the largest wave of immigration in US history has stalled and is now close to slipping into reverse.

Between 2005 and 2010, 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the United States, less than half the number that migrated between 1995 and 2000. At the same time, the number of Mexicans who moved to Mexico over the same period rose to 1.4 million, double the number over the previous five years.

Other research groups in the field say the narrowing gap in wages and relative costs of living between Mexico and the US, as well as improving education standards in Mexico, has tipped the calculation back.

“The great migration of the past five decades has been slowing for a decade,” says Doug Massey, founder of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton University. “We’ve been at a point of stasis since 2009.”

On the US side, election year tough-on-immigration rhetoric has obscured the subtleties of the US-Mexico relationship.

But in Mexico, increased border controls on the US side, as well as controversial anti-immigrant legislation passed in states like Alabama and Arizona, are only overt signals that the US may have entered a period of sustained hostility toward its southern, economically vital neighbour.

Potential migrants say the border is not itself a dissuading factor, but racial discrimination and hostility, efforts to deny employment, education and healthcare are, as is increased exposure to arrest and deportation.

“The reason they’re coming home is because they have no options, no papers, and the laws are more aggressive,” says Fernando Morett, a shopkeeper in the coastal town of Chiutlan. “It’s complicated, and people are debating it. If they don’t have friends in the US and they have to pay to cross the line, it’s not worth it.”

For Mexicans already in the US, the decision to return is still fraught with uncertainty. “But at least here they have the option of food and shelter, and they suffer less than in the US,” says Morett.


Between 2005 and 2010, the same number of Mexicans entered the US as left it. Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters

The turnaround is striking. While studies that show migrant workers are net economic contributors and form the bedrock of construction, farming and catering during boom years, there is evidence the crackdown is creating a new underclass.

“It’s a huge drag on social and economic mobility in the country if
you’ve got no rights whatsoever,” says Massey. Economic improve-
ment in Mexico and across Latin America, coupled with declining
fertility rates (from an average of seven children in 1960 to just over
two now) suggests the region may soon no longer have a surplus workforce.

Further, the hardened US attitudes toward foreigners is keenly felt. Cesar Castellano, a taxi driver waiting for a fare in Comala, describes how his brother worked eight years at the same California restaurant.

“One morning the police came and searched everyone. He had no papers so they took him to the border at Tijuana. They wouldn’t let him see his family or collect his things. The restaurant gave him nothing. Now he’s working in construction here.”

The choice to stay home appears to have little to with the ongoing militarisation of the long US-Mexico border that started in the mid-1980s. The border now costs $3.5bn annually in fence construction and technology that includes drones and motion sensors. Critics say it’s an effective local employment boon – the number of border agents has tripled in recent years – but little more: the measures do not in themselves dissuade migrants.

Expansive new detention cells at typical border crossing are reported virtually empty. “We will always get over we want to,” says one of the young men in Colama. “If there were better opportunities in the US, we would go.”

David Fitzgerald, an immigration expert at the University of California San Diego, believes that 95% of those who attempt the crossing succeed. He believes border controls have inadvertently contributed to the ferocity of the cartel wars on the Mexican side – an insurgency that has killed 50,000 over the past four years.

The mom-and-pop “coyote” operations that once ran migrants across the border have been pushed out replaced by sophisticated operations that pay dues to the cartels for crossing their territory. Costs of a cross-border transport have risen $2,500, a ten-fold increase in a decade.

“More agents has led to more coyotes, and it’s a more lucrative and complex business,” says Fitzgerald. “The gangs are not directly involved in people-smuggling, but they’re paid for the rights to cross their territory. Along the Gulf Coast, the Zetas have been preying on Central American migrants.”

But in Mexico’s rural towns, young men watch reports on TV of the violence in Ciudad Juarez and Monterrey and share anecdotes of migrants going missing with only their luggage ever turning up or of being Tasered by border control on the US side.

At Jalisco, traditionally one of the main sending states, the effects of border issues are keenly felt. Families are split when parents who lack papers are separated from their US-born children. Instead of being repatriated, apprehended migrants are subjected to periods of detention; penalties for overstaying on migrant worker visas have increased with longer periods of disbarment. Temporary work visas, while more plentiful, are also expensive to apply for.

With remaining migrants struggling for employment in the US, they’re less likely to be able to raise the steep fees to bring friends and family over. In Jalisco, that lack of opportunity has also given gangs opportunity for Mafia-style loan sharking and protection rackets tied to the state’s rival gangs, Los Nueva Generacion and pseudo-religious Knights Templar, which recently proclaimed it would stop the violence for the duration of the pope’s visit.

“The guys want money but they can’t go to America to make it. So then they lend it or demand money for protection, and that causes more problems,” says Castellano. “Perhaps it would be better everyone if they just opened the border.”

But in the current political and economic environment, he admits, that’s unlikely.

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Report finds wave of Mexican immigration to U.S. has ended

LATimes

Associate Director, David FitzGerald, discusses the drop in number of Mexican immigrants coming to the United States.


The study by the Pew Hispanic Center cites the economic downturn and increased enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border as factors in the drop in the number of Mexicans coming to the country.

BY PALOMA ESQUIVEL and HECTOR BECERRA   APRIL 24, 2012

Net migration from Mexico to the United States has come to a statistical standstill, stalling one of the most significant demographic trends of the last four decades.

Amid an economic downturn and increased enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border, the number of Mexicans coming to the United States dropped significantly, while the number of those returning home increased sharply over the last several years, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center.

“The largest wave of immigration in history from a single country to the United States has come to a standstill,” the report says.

Between 2005 and 2010, 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the United States, less than half the number that migrated between 1995 and 2000. At the same time, the number of Mexicans and their children who moved to Mexico in the same five-year period rose to 1.4 million, about double the number that did so between 1995 and 2000.

The estimates are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and on Mexican census data. The most recent data indicate that the historic flow of migrants into the U.S. might even have started to reverse.

“We’re fairly confident that by the end of the period we were seeing more people moving to Mexico than leaving” for the United States, said co-author Jeffrey S. Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center.

Illegal immigrants from Mexico residing in the U.S. still outnumber their legal counterparts, but the proportion has shifted, the report found. The number of Mexican illegal immigrants residing in the U.S. fell from 7 million in 2007 to about 6.1 million in 2011. In the same period, the number of legal immigrants from Mexico residing here increased from 5.6 million to 5.8 million.

The report attributes the changes to several factors, including the weakened economy, increased border enforcement, a rise in deportations, growing dangers at the border and a long-term decline in Mexican birthrates. Which factor is dominant is still unknown.

“At this point, it’s very hard to say because all of them are kind of working in the same direction,” Passel said.

The report comes as the Supreme Court on Wednesday is set to take up elements of Arizona’s tough crackdown on illegal immigrants, known as SB 1070. Advocates for reduced immigration cited the report as proof that tightened enforcement works. Many immigrant advocates have long cited job prospects as a primary factor in decisions to migrate.

Several factors in Mexico contributed to the shift, including a drop in fertility rates there, according to the report’s authors. That rate dropped from 7.3 children per woman in 1960 to 2.4 in 2009, meaning there are fewer people entering the workforce. At the same time, indicators of development such as literacy, average years of education and healthcare have improved.

The Mexican demographic trends and the U.S. political shift toward increased enforcement mean that immigration from Mexico is probably down for the long run, said David Fitzgerald, a sociology professor with the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego.

Even if the U.S. economy bounces back, he said, there’s strong reason to believe that illegal immigration from Mexico will never surge the way it did about 10 years ago, he said.

The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies does an annual survey of three communities in Mexico that are routine sources of immigrants to the U.S. All three show decreases in immigration, he said.

“This report is showing at the binational level what we’ve seen at the community level in the sense that new, unauthorized immigration to the U.S. has dropped off dramatically,” Fitzgerald said. “I think by far the most important factor is the downturn in the U.S. job market, and the second factor is the concentrated border enforcement activity.”

Fitzgerald said it’s too early to say whether tough state laws have caused illegal immigrants to return to Mexico, although there is evidence that Arizona’s law caused some people to leave that state, he said.

Advocates against illegal immigration said the report confirms that stricter enforcement combined with tougher job prospects work to curtail illegal immigration.

“If you dry up the job magnet because of the bad economy or increased work-site enforcement, you reduce illegal immigration,” said Bob Dane, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for restricted immigration.

The federal government needs to continue to crack down on illegal immigration, regardless of the report’s conclusions, Dane said.

“The fact remains there’s still 7 million illegal aliens occupying jobs that should go to American citizens,” he said. “It’s nowhere near mission accomplished.”

Jessica Dominguez, a Los Angeles-based immigration attorney, said increasing numbers of deportees who have families in the U.S. are not returning because the trip is more dangerous and the consequences of being caught are more severe.

“Some people are staying away until they can come back legally,” Dominguez said. “They don’t want to be exposed to being detained again and losing the opportunity to come back legally later. The laws are very strict at this point.”

About 29% of the immigrant population is from Mexico, far surpassing the next largest group, Indians, who comprise about 4.5% of the 40-million immigrants living in the U.S., according to the report. The number of Mexicans who came to the U.S. over the last several decades surpasses that of any other nationality in U.S. history, but when measured as a share of the U.S. immigrant population at the time, the Irish and German influx in the 19th century equaled or exceeded the Mexican migration, the report noted.

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Life as an Undocumented Immigrant

CCIS graduate student researchers David Keyes and Angela S. García comment on their report, “Life as an Undocumented Immigrant: How Restrictive Local Immigration Policies Affect Daily Life,” in U-T San Diego, La Opinión, NBC San Diego, and Univision San Diego.

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Does the GOP care about Latino voters?




CCIS scholar Zoltan Hajnal discusses Republican strategy on Latino voters.


BY DANA MILBANK   FEBRUARY 14, 2012

When it comes to Latino voters, Republicans must have un impulso suicida.

What else but a death wish could explain the party’s treatment of the fastest-growing voting bloc in the nation? First was the wave of Arizona-style immigration laws. Then came the anti-immigrant rhetoric from the GOP presidential candidates. On Tuesday, Senate Republicans roughed up Adalberto Jose Jordan — because, well, just because they could.

Jordan is the very picture of the American dream: Born in Cuba, he fled with his parents to the United States at age six and went on to become a lawyer and clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. With the support of his home-state senator, Republican Marco Rubio (Fla.), a fellow Cuban American, Jordan was nominated to become the first Cuban-born judge to serve on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

There is no serious objection to his confirmation — which makes the hazing he has experienced all the more inexplicable. Republicans slow-walked his nomination (he was approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee in July), then filibustered his confirmation vote on the Senate floor. Even when the filibuster was broken Monday night (by a lopsided 89-5), a lone Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, used a procedural hurdle to postpone the confirmation vote by two days, to Wednesday.

Congressional staffers I checked with couldn’t recall a similar instance of blocking a confirmation even after a filibuster had failed. This would seem to be a unique humiliation for a man hailed by the Hispanic National Bar Association because of “the positive message this nomination sends to the Latino community.”

Paul, whose home-state Hispanic population is just 3 percent, had a different message. He used his senatorial prerogative to leave Jordan twisting in the wind for another 30 hours – because Paul wanted to use him as leverage to secure an extraneous amendment (rescinding foreign aid to Egypt) to an unrelated bill (transportation).

“Some senators are concerned that I may be delaying a vote in the Senate. This is not true,” Paul said on the floor Tuesday morning, in direct contradiction of the facts. He complained about assistance going to the Egyptians, who “now hold 19 U.S. citizens virtually hostage.”

Republican leaders couldn’t — or wouldn’t — defy their colleague. Asked about the holdup, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said only: “I’m a great admirer of the junior senator of Kentucky.”

Democrats waited out the delay by reminding Republicans of their tone-deafness. “He’ll be the first Cuban-born judge to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (Vt.) said, standing alongside a poster of the nominee. Leahy complained that if the biblical Moses were nominated, there are “some on the other side who would demand to see Moses the Lawgiver’s birth certificate to make sure he wasn’t born in Kenya.”

Republicans should be sensitive to the tweak. The party’s presidential candidates have done long-term damage by vowing opposition to the DREAM Act (legalization for illegal immigrants who serve in the armed forces) and by trying to paint each other as too soft on immigration (highlighted by Herman Cain’s call for a lethal electric fence). Rubio and Jeb Bush have called for an end to what Rubio called “harsh and intolerable” rhetoric.

The Hispanic population is expected to double — to 30 percent of the United States population — in the coming decades. So if Latinos continue to vote 2-to-1 for Democrats, the Republican Party will become irrelevant. Zoltan Hajnal of the University of California, San Diego, an authority on racial politics, sees a parallel with the Republicans’ alienation of African Americans in the 1960s. “The image of the party is pretty clear to most Latinos,” he said, “and once party images are built, they get passed on from parent to child in a process that’s very resistant to change.”

The party simply can’t afford self-inflicted wounds such as the Jordan debacle. “He’s an integral part of our community,” Rubio told his colleagues.

But Republicans didn’t care enough about that to stand up to Paul. Through the “debate” on the nomination, one senator after the other came to the floor — and ignored the delay.

Some spoke about transportation. Others spoke about the budget. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) spoke about the wonders of his state. “The lettuce in your salad this month almost certainly came from Arizona,” McCain said. “It’s also believed that the chimichanga has its origin in Arizona.”

The chimichanga? It may be the only thing Republicans have left to offer Latinos.

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UC San Diego Moves Up to 11th on Peace Corps’ Top Colleges Ranking

UCSD alumnus and Peace Corps volunteer, Chelsea Tibbs, credits her experience with the Mexican Migration Field Research Program (MMFRP) as her inspiration to join the Peace Corps.


BY CHRISTINE CLARK   JANUARY 25, 2012

The University of California, San Diego ranks 11th among all large universities in the nation, up from 14th last year, on the Peace Corps’ annual list of “Top Colleges and Universities,” released today. With 78 alumni currently serving as Peace Corps volunteers, the university has continued its upward trajectory on the Peace Corps’ annual list.

“The Peace Corps gave me the opportunity to pursue my passion for working with vulnerable populations,” said UC San Diego alumnus Chelsea Tibbs. “I wanted to become a volunteer because I have always been driven to serve my community––I don’t limit my community to be geographically and culturally close.”


Tibbs1

UC San Diego alumna Chelsea Tibbs, along with her husband, who also graduated from UC San Diego, works as a community health volunteer in the South American nation of Guyana.

Since the Peace Corps’ inception in 1961, 715 UC San Diego alumni have served in the Peace Corps including Tibbs. Tibbs, along with her husband, who also graduated from UC San Diego, works as a community health volunteer in the South American nation of Guyana. Tibbs credits her experience with UC San Diego’s Center for Comparative Immigration Studies’ Mexican Migration Field Research Project (MMFRP), as well as the program’s professors, Wayne Cornelius
and David Fitzgerald, with inspiring
her to join the Peace Corps.

Peace Corps campus recruiter, Diana Gomez, has contributed to the university’s upward trend in the Peace Corps rankings. Gomez, who is based in the Career Services Center, served in the Peace Corps in Armenia from 1999 to 2002. She hosts regular information sessions and has encouraged many students to participate in the Peace Corps.


The Peace Corps gave me the opportunity to pursue my passion for working with vulnerable populations,” said UC San Diego alumnus Chelsea Tibbs.

Today, UC San Diego has alumni serving in 40 of the 75 countries where the Peace Corps works.

Paul Woo Hoogenstyn, who graduated from UC San Diego in 2007, is currently is volunteering as a teacher in Atebubu, Ghana.

“UC San Diego, like the city of San Diego, is very diverse,” Woo Hoogenstyn said. “I think the
  diversity–from the faculty to the students to the          
      strong study abroad programs–helps influence alumni
like me to travel and try to make a difference in the world.”

UC San Diego’s Peace Corps volunteers are working in the fields of business, education, environment, health and youth development and serving in countries as diverse as Albania, Guyana, Mongolia and Uganda.

peacecorps3

Paul Woo Hoogenstyn (far left) and friends. Woo Hoogenstyn graduated from UC San Diego in 2007 and is currently is volunteering as a teacher in Atebubu, Ghana.

UC San Diego’s students and alumni have served local, national and global communities on issues range from poverty to homelessness and environmental justice. This commitment has been recognized by Washington Monthly, which ranked UC San Diego the top college in the nation for the second consecutive year in the publication’s rankings measuring “what colleges are doing for the country.”


The Peace Corps’ Top Colleges report ranks colleges and universities according to the size of the student body. To view all the rankings, go here.

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Migrants’ New Paths Reshaping Latin America

Associate Director of CCIS, David FitzGerald, speaks about the changing patterns of immigration between the United States and Mexico.


BY DAMIEN CAVE   JANUARY 5, 2012

Mexico-articleLarge

Many Mexican migrants now shun the border for Mexican towns like Santa María Atzompa.
(Rodrigo Cruz for The New York Times)

SANTA MARÍA ATZOMPA, Mexico — When the old-timers here look around their town, all they see are new arrivals: young Mexican men working construction and driving down wages; the children of laborers flooding crowded schools; even new businesses — stores, restaurants and strip clubs — springing up on roads that used to be dark and quiet.

The shock might seem familiar enough in countless American towns wrestling with immigration, but this is a precolonial Mexican village outside Oaxaca City, filling up with fellow Mexicans. Still, grimaces about the influx are as common as smiles.

“Before all these people came, everything was tranquil,” said Marcelino Juárez, 61, an artisan at the local ceramics market. “They bring complications. They don’t bring benefits.”

Throughout Mexico and much of Latin America, the old migratory patterns are changing. The mobile and restless are now casting themselves across a wider range of cities and countries in the region, pitting old residents against new, increasing pressure to create jobs and prompting nations to rewrite their immigration laws, sometimes to encourage the trend.

The United States is simply not the magnet it once was. Arrests at the United States’ southwest border in 2011 fell to their lowest level since 1972, confirming that illegal immigration, especially from Mexico, has reached what experts now describe as either a significant pause or the end of an era.

But this is not a shift in volume as much as direction. Nearly two million more Mexicans lived away from their hometowns in 2010 than was the case a decade earlier, according to the Mexican census. Experts say departures have also held steady or increased over the past few years in Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru and other Latin American countries that have traditionally been hubs of emigration.

The migrants are just not always going where they used to.

Mexicans, for example, are increasingly avoiding the United States and the border region, as well as their own capital, and are moving toward smaller, safer cities like Mérida, Oaxaca City and Querétaro. Experts say more Guatemalans are also settling in Mexico after years of passing through on the journey north.

To the south, the pull of Chile, Argentina and Brazil is also strengthening. The International Organization for Migration reports that the Bolivian population in Argentina has increased by 48 percent since 2001 (to 345,000), and that the country’s Paraguayan and Peruvian populations have grown even faster.

All of this movement is reshaping the region, making it less like a compass pointing north and more like a hub with many spokes. From the papayas grown by Bolivian farmers in Argentina to the recent discovery of exploited illegal workers in Chile and conflicts over local government in southern Mexico, this intraregional migration in Latin America has become both a challenge and a promising surprise for a part of the world that has generally framed the issue in terms of how many people leave for the United States.

“It’s like a river changing course,” said Gabino Cué Monteagudo, the governor of Oaxaca. “It’s the process of development — it’s inevitable.”

For the United States, the collective shift means fewer migrants crossing the border illegally and possibly more debate over whether the expanded budgets for immigration enforcement still make sense.

But the greatest impacts are being felt in fast-growing towns like Santa María Atzompa, where thousands of mostly poor, rural families have chosen to seek their fortunes. In the case of this town and the surrounding area, the growth has been “fast, barbaric and anarchic,” said Jorge Hernández-Díaz, a sociologist at the Autonomous University of Benito Juárez de Oaxaca.

A generation ago, he said, the road from Oaxaca City to the main plaza of Atzompa passed by fields and farmers, little more. The total population for the municipality in 1990 was 5,781. Now, this small piece of land has filled in with a labyrinth of dirt roads with dead ends, new businesses and thousands of homes in varying levels of construction and quality.

Residents say the population boom accelerated around 2006, as opportunities in the United States fell away and the dangers and cost of crossing the border became prohibitive amid drug cartel violence and stepped-up border security. Now, more than 27,000 people live in Atzompa, according to the 2010 census, and more keep coming.

Other regional poles are experiencing similar growth. Indeed, while the population of Mexico City has stabilized and immigration to the United States has declined, Mexico’s coastal and exurban areas have expanded.

This is partly because of the Mexican government’s efforts to decentralize development, often with incentives for international businesses. Just last month, Nissan said that it would build a factory in the central city of Aguascalientes. Here in Oaxaca State, experts say, the migration out of rural areas is also a product of land reforms in 1992 that, along with the North American Free Trade Agreement, made it harder for farmers to eke out a living and easier for them to sell land.

In South America, too, free trade agreements have contributed to more regional movement, as have steadily growing economies and new laws encouraging migration or protecting migrants’ rights in Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico and Ecuador, among others.

Improvements in technology (especially access to cellphones) and infrastructure (especially better roads) have also made it easier to discover and reach jobs in new places, fueling the classic urge to improve one’s lot without the obstacles and increasing perils of the trek north.

“It’s the economics, but also the culture and more information,” said Juan Artola, South America director for the International Organization for Migration. “Intraregional migration has grown a lot in the last decade and it’s very important because of the changes it implies.”

Continuing and expanding the move toward urbanization, migrants are now making Latin America more integrated, and more metropolitan, say demographers and experts throughout the region. About 77 percent of all Mexicans now live in urban areas, up from 66 percent in 1980.

That makes it easier and cheaper to provide services, including health care, water and electricity, say government officials. For migrants, education seems to be the main draw. Schools that go beyond secondary education are rare in the mountain towns of this poor state, and many young people say they came here to study or because a relative came to study.

Gabriel Hernández, 21, said that four of his brothers moved here to study, starting a decade ago. Some graduated, others did not, but the family opened a bodega about a year ago, selling produce from their hometown in the northern mountains.

Mr. Hernández and many other new residents in Atzompa, who come not only from Oaxaca, but also Veracruz, Mexico City and elsewhere, say they are happy with how things have gone.

Javier Espíritu 36, Buddha-round and covered in paint at the carpentry shop he opened last month, said he had no plans to move again. Business is decent, but his reasons go beyond economics. He came here with his wife and two children, a rarity for migrants who cross into the United States illegally, separated from their families. And unlike his older brothers who made that journey a decade ago, he said he traveled home to his village six hours south of here twice a year.

“When my mom needs anything, she calls me,” he said. “Going to other states, or the U.S. — it’s too complicated. Can you imagine me trying to take my whole family up there?”

And yet, as many Americans in communities with immigration growth have learned, new residents mean new challenges. Poverty in Atzompa remains high. A drug rehabilitation center sits down the block from Mr. Espíritu’s workshop; strip clubs promising “bellas chicas” are nearby, and longtime residents now complain about having too many young men with different values in their midst.

“They’re not from here,” said Mr. Juárez, the artisan, explaining the enduring divide.

Atzompa seems to have reached its breaking point. Governor Cué said that urbanization was one of his administration’s main priorities, but the government is clearly struggling to keep up with population growth. Only a handful of Atzompa’s roads are paved, and the main secondary school, built for about 120 students, now has nearly 700. Gym classes and sports practices take place on the dirt roads outside.

The strains have led to a deep conflict here over government and culture. Atzompa used to be simply a rural village run according to the communal “usos y costumbres” system of government, in which full civic rights accrue only to people who participate in government or community service and are born in the community. But as new residents began to outnumber old ones over the past few years, the recent arrivals complained that they were paying taxes and getting few or no services in return.

Last year, the community hit an impasse. When the municipal president’s term ended, a state administrator took over. Now the state legislature must decide whether to keep “usos y costumbres” or establish the kind of party system found in most of Mexico.

Meanwhile, the economics of Atzompa have been changing, not all for the good. Construction workers say that increased competition has decreased their daily rate to $11, from $14 five years ago, while prices for empty lots have doubled to about $7,200.

Inside Mr. Espíritu’s shop, these are the kinds of new developments that fill conversations and hint at problems to come. “With all this urbanization, there is a lot of work, but what happens when it’s over?” said Sergio Morales, who had come to order a door for his house.

One optimistic possibility, he said, was that the current decline in migration to the United States would lead Mexicans to study, work and slowly build businesses here instead of fleeing for higher wages in the United States. “Look at this guy,” Mr. Morales said, pointing to Mr. Espíritu. “He has been doing it for years.”

New survey research from the University of California, San Diego, suggests that more internal migrants are now moving to areas closer to home, rather than going to states closer to the border or to the capital. One in five people who left the northern village of San Miguel Tlacotepec between 2001 and 2011 stayed within Oaxaca State, according to the university survey of every town resident, up from a little over one in 10 from 1997 to 2007.

But as the new migration patterns show, movements of people — like capital — are fluid and can change. Many of Mexico’s young people are betting that more education will land them better jobs at home over the coming years. But right now, said David Fitzgerald, a demographer at the University of California, San Diego, “their aspirations are higher than their opportunities.”

Whether Mexico closes that gap may determine whether the Mexican economy holds onto its new graduates, or whether once again they decide to head north in droves.

“That’s our great challenge,” Governor Cué said. “We have to find jobs for all these young people who are studying.”

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Q&A with David FitzGerald (U-T San Diego)

Q&A with David FitzGerald, associate professor of sociology and associate director, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, at the University of California San Diego.


BY ELIZABETH AGUILERA JANUARY 1, 2012

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A Q&A with David FitzGerald, associate professor of sociology and associate director, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, at the University of California San Diego.

Q: In 2009 you co-edited the book “Mexican Migration and the U.S. Economic Crisis.” Studies and figures show migration has slowed during the crisis. Will it return when the economy recovers? How do falling birth rates and improving economies in Mexico and Latin America affect such migration, or future migration to the U.S.?

New arrivals from Mexico dropped 60% from 2006 to 2010. The main reason for this drop is the weak U.S. economy, particularly in the construction sector that employs large numbers of Mexican men. The second-most important factor is increased U.S. border enforcement. Surveys conducted by the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego show that more than 95 percent of migrants from Mexico that attempt to enter illegally eventually succeed, even if about a third of them are apprehended by the Border Patrol. However, U.S. border enforcement strategy is pushing migrants into ever-more dangerous wilderness areas. An average of one person a day dies trying to get across the Southwest border. Our surveys show that many potential migrants are so afraid of the risks of crossing clandestinely that they are staying in Mexico, even as those who do try to cross without papers almost invariably make it.

If and when the U.S. economy starts creating more jobs, I expect immigration rates from Mexico to rise from their current levels. But I don’t think they will reach the historically high levels that they did in the early 2000s. First, fertility rates in Mexico have fallen dramatically, from 7 babies per woman in 1960 to 2.4 babies per woman in 2009. That means that over time, the relative number of young people entering the Mexican workforce, the demographic group most likely to migrate to the United States, will decline. Second, U.S. border enforcement strategy is driving up the risks and costs of unauthorized immigration, which will limit the ability of people in Mexico who are very poor and who don’t have close relatives in the United States to migrate illegally. And current U.S. immigration policy makes it impossible for people in that category to immigrate legally.

Q: Is it possible that enough time could go by that those in Mexico and Latin America lose ties with the U.S. and stop coming?

There are many examples of emigration rates dwindling in countries that were once major countries of origin. Think of Italy, Spain, and South Korea in the last fifty years, not to mention Germany and Scandinavia in the nineteenth century. Nobody would have predicted then that desperately poor countries such as Norway would eventually stop sending citizens abroad and become rich destinations for new immigrants instead. For emigration to stop from Latin American countries, their economies would have to grow much faster than the United States over many decades. Even if the wage gap narrowed, social ties across the border are so strong that family reunification migration would continue for years after the economic rationale to migrate had diminished. Brazil is growing so fast that it is conceivable that its emigration rate will soon slow. But I would expect large flows to continue from Mexico and Central America at least for the next several generations.

Q. Have has this trend, of low economic migration and increased enforcement, affected the citizen children of immigrants both in the U.S. and in Mexico or Central America?

Since the 1970s, there has been a trend away from the circular migration of men back and forth between Mexico and the United States, toward long-term settlement of whole families in the United States. The current disruption in new immigration is separating families. Wives and children in Mexico can’t see their husband and fathers in the United States, often for years at a time. Many small towns in Mexico are lonely places inhabited mostly by children, wives, and seniors. The Catholic Church, school teachers, and mental health providers are particularly concerned about how children are affected by the long-term absence of their fathers who are working in the United States to support their families back in Mexico.

Q: Your current project deals with racial and national origin preferences and citizenship policy. Has that history led to change in the U.S. under current policies?

For most of its history, U.S. immigration policy explicitly discriminated against particular racial and ethnic groups. Naturalization was restricted to whites in 1790, and it wasn’t until 1952 that all Asian immigrants were eligible to naturalize. Between 1882 and 1943, immigration of people of Chinese descent was banned. By the 1920s, immigration policy had all but ended Asian immigration, and a system of national-origin quotas preferentially treated people from northwestern Europe while restricting southern and eastern Europeans. The end of the national-origins policy in 1965 dramatically changed the ethnic composition of immigration flows. In 2009, 28 percent of immigrants to the United States were born in Asia, up from 5 percent in 1960.

There are still vestiges of the quota system in U.S. immigration policy. For people trying to become permanent legal residents based on their employment and some family reunification-categories, visas are restricted to 25,620 per country, regardless of the size of the country or its historical levels of migration. Mexico is treated the same as Monaco. As a result, the waiting period to process an immigrant visa for those categories varies widely. For example, unmarried adult daughters and sons of U.S. citizens are waiting 19 years if they are Mexican, 14 years if they are Filipino, and only 5 years on average if they are nationals of other countries. Congress is debating the possibility of ending the per country limits for employment-based visas, which have led to long waiting times for Chinese and Indians, and providing some relief to Mexicans and Filipinos in the family category.

Q: During this study of such policies and preferences over 150 years did you find anything surprising?

One of the striking features of U.S. immigration policy is how racist policies have been fueled by popular demand. An 1879 California referendum on whether Chinese immigration should be allowed received 883 votes in favor and 154,638 opposed. Restrictionists passed laws restricting the ability of Chinese to interact freely with natives, and then blamed them for clannish behavior and refusing to assimilate. The 1879 state constitution banned government and businesses from hiring Chinese and gave cities and towns the authority to segregate Chinese in particular neighborhoods. That’s why we have Chinatowns in San Francisco and Los Angeles, (and used to have one in San Diego in what became the Gaslamp Quarter). What might seem like a colorful tourist attraction today is the product of segregation imposed by the government at the behest of the electorate. One of the findings of the broader study is that democracy has actually enabled racist policies. The United States, Australia, and Canada were leaders in initiating racist policies in the nineteenth century, and those countries were among the last major countries in the New World to dismantle their racist policies. The turn away from racist policies was primarily due to geopolitical considerations during World War II and the Cold War.

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Fenced In (The Dallas Morning News)



Research from the Mexican Migration Field Research Program was mentioned in The Dallas Morning News


BY GABRIEL ESCOBAR   NOVEMBER 4, 2011

A U.S. Border Patrol agent along the fence at the Mexican border.

Let’s say you want to cross the U.S.-Mexico border the unconventional way. If you pay someone to sneak you in through a legal port of entry–a more popular option with women–it costs $2,850 and requires that you hide in a vehicle of some sort. If you choose the desert or mountain route, the added hazard and rigor drop the price to $1,587.

Despite the aggressive enforcement along the U.S. Mexico border, this illegal act still occurs with some frequency. Fewer people are trying to get in, for a host of reasons, but those who are bent on coming pay coyotes the fee and venture across. Sometimes it takes several tries, but the success rate is still an astonishing nine out of every ten.

We know these details thanks to the social scientists at the Mexican Migration Field Research Program, which is run by the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Since 2005, their surveys of immigrants in Mexico and California have given us a remarkable insight into the factors that drive migration.

Illuminating this issue helps everyone, regardless of where you stand on this intensely debated issue. It is only when you know the forces at work that you can begin to understand immigration in all its complexity and (cue the hope and dream) begin to develop a coherent public policy.

David Keyes, one of the researchers, shared with me some of the latest findings, which were also presented at a conference in California this week. Based on interviews with residents from the Mexican town of Tlacotepec–those still in the village and those now in California–researchers offer some sobering insights into the limits of enforcement.

The poor economy in the U.S. and the perception that the route north is more perilous than before are indeed deterring people from leaving. But those who are bent on coming will make the trip and, by dint of repeated tries, sneak across. “Border enforcement efforts of the U.S. government are not effectively stemming the undocumented migrations of Tlacotepense migrants,” according to a draft of the research paper.

Keyes, in a PowerPoint presentation, does an interesting analysis that links the hours the U.S. Border Patrol spends watching the frontier and the fees charged by human smugglers. In the early 1980s, when the total number of hours standing guard was under 2 million, it cost under $500 to sneak cross. In 2010, when the number of hours more than quadrupled, the fee averages a little under $2,000.

What does this tell us? Well, it supports the theory that one consequence of more aggressive enforcement is more aggressive attempts at violating the border. Researchers who interviewed Mexicans from Tlacotepec, in the southwestern state of Guerrero, conclude that 38 percent of those who entered illegally were apprehended at least once when crossing via desert or mountain. Those who snuck in at border crossings fared better–22 percent were caught at least once.

These apprehension rates have not really changed much from 2002 to 2010, a period of rather dramatic enforcement. The reason, researchers conclude, is that the tactics and methods of those running this market changed. Between 1986 and 1993, 53 percent of Tlacotepenses used a coyote. Between 2002 and 2010, an astonishing 87 percent resorted to these human smugglers.

I think it is misguided to use this data to argue that enforcement doesn’t work, for the simple reason that there is no way to measure how many would have entered had security not increased. Logic argues that the numbers would be higher, maybe much higher. But the persistence demonstrated by these migrants, particularly when the economy is not a draw, really does show that enforcement alone can only accomplish so much. If the economy improves and if migrants sense that the drug violence is abating, well you reach your own conclusions.

The Border Patrol and its parent, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, are now focusing enforcement on human smuggling networks and migrants who repeatedly cross the border. The research, certainly unintended, validates that change in policy by providing a statistical framework.

The Mexican Migration Field Research Project, along with an even more ambitious Mexican Migration Project at Princeton University, provide an invaluable service and should be required reading for all public officials and agencies involved in immigration. Among other things, the research conducted by these social scientists is the only antidote to the extreme politics of immigration, where rhetoric rules and intemperate shouts drown out data.

Here’s what the numbers tell us: The border is far more secure now than it has ever been–all that money, all those boots on the ground and all those eyes in the sky offer vigilance at a level that is unprecedented. This is beyond dispute, and anyone who argues otherwise is simply ignoring the facts. The number of illegal immigrants entering has dropped rather dramatically, to 150,000 a year down from as high as 600,000, according to one reliable estimate.

Enforcement is an important factor but not the only one. A bad economy in the U.S. has always worked as a deterrent. Important demographic changes in Mexico and the persistence of violence along the border are also significant factors. We are living in an unusual time because all these forces are at play at the same time, and all are having an impact.

But even when the border is at its most secure, when migration is further checked by these other factors, the frontier with Mexico is still a porous place. Look at the determined Tlacotepenses. Barring a hermetic seal (or Herman’s electrified fence), people bent on moving north will find a way, eventually. There’s an industry with high profit margins that practically guarantees it.

“I don’t think it will stop,” a middle-aged migrant, taking stock of all of this, told the researchers. “It might deter people like me, who are very cautions. But a lot of people that have made up their mind, they are tired of not having money….And that wall, we might not be able to jump it, but there will be coyotes that will dig a kilometer-long hole. And they will do it. They will do it because there is money to be made.”

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