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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
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.
Research from the Mexican Migration Field Research Program was mentioned in The Dallas Morning News
BY GABRIEL ESCOBAR NOVEMBER 4, 2011
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.”
CCIS Associate Director David FitzGerald was interviewed for an article by the Spanish news agency EFE about how border crime affects unauthorized immigration.
The New York Times cited research from CCIS’s Mexican Migration Field Research Project in its October 3, 2011 article on unauthorized immigration from Mexico to the United States.
Migrant shelters along the Mexican border are filled with seasoned crossers: older men and women, often deportees, braving ever-greater risks to get back to their families in the United States — the country they consider home.
BY DAMIEN CAVE OCTOBER 2, 2011
Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, used to be a hub for migrants heading north. It now receives hundreds of deportees a day, more than any other city along the border. (Tyler Hicks/The New York Times)
AGUA PRIETA, Mexico — “My wife, my son — I have to get back to them,” Daniel kept telling himself, from the moment he was arrested in Seattle for driving with an expired license, all the way through the deportation proceeding that delivered him to Mexico in June.
Nothing would deter him from crossing the border again. He had left his hometown at 24, he said. Twelve years later, he spoke nearly fluent English and had an American son, a wife and three brothers in the United States. “I’ll keep trying,” he said, “until I’ll get there.”
This is increasingly the profile of illegal immigration today. Migrant shelters along the Mexican border are filled not with newcomers looking for a better life, but with seasoned crossers: older men and women, often deportees, braving ever-greater risks to get back to their families in the United States — the country they consider home.
They present an enormous challenge to American policy makers, because they continue to head north despite obstacles more severe than at any time in recent history. It is not just that the American economy has little to offer; the border itself is far more threatening. On one side, fences have grown and American agents have multiplied; on the other, criminals haunt the journey at every turn.
And yet, while these factors — and better opportunities at home — have cut illegal immigration from Mexico to its lowest level in decades, they are not enough to scare off a sizable, determined cadre.
“We have it boiled down to the hardest lot,” said Christopher Sabatini, senior director for policy at the Council of the Americas.
Indeed, 56 percent of apprehensions at the Mexican border in 2010 involved people who had been caught previously, up from 44 percent in 2005. A growing percentage of deportees in recent years have also been deported before, according to Department of Homeland Security figures.
For the Obama administration, these repeat offenders have become a high priority. Prosecutions for illegal re-entry have jumped by more than two-thirds since 2008. Officials say it is now the most prosecuted federal felony.
President Obama has already deported around 1.1 million immigrants — more than any president since Dwight D. Eisenhower — and officials say the numbers will not decline. But at a time when the dynamics of immigration are changing, experts and advocates on all sides are increasingly asking if the approach, which has defined immigration policy since 9/11, still makes sense.
Deportation is expensive, costing the government at least $12,500 per person, and it often does not work: between October 2008 and July 22 of this year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spent $2.25 billion sending back 180,229 people who had been deported before and come back anyway. Many more have returned and stayed hidden.
Some groups favoring reduced immigration say that making life harder for illegal immigrants in this country would be far more efficient. They argue that along with eliminating work opportunities by requiring employers to verify the reported immigration status of new hires, Congress should also prohibit illegal immigrants from opening bank accounts, or even obtaining library cards.
“You’d reduce the number of people who keep coming back again and again,” said Bob Dane, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. The alternative, says Doris Meissner, the country’s top immigration official in the mid-1990s, is to accept that illegal immigrants like Daniel “are people with fundamental ties to the United States, not where they came from.”
“Our societies are so deeply connected,” Ms. Meissner said, referring primarily to the United States and Mexico, the main source of illegal immigrants. “And that is not reflected at all in policy.”
The administration acknowledges that immigrants like Daniel are rooted in the United States and typically have otherwise clean criminal records. But under its new plan introduced in August — suspending deportations for pending low-priority cases, including immigrants brought to the United States as children — repeat crossers are singled out for removal alongside “serious felons,” “known gang members” and “individuals who pose a clear risk to national security.”
Administration officials say they are trying to break the “yo-yo effect” of people bouncing back, as mandated by congress when it toughened laws related to illegal re-entry in the 1990s.
But some experts argue that this commingling actually undermines security. After a decade of record deportations, critics argue, it has become even harder to separate the two groups that now define the border: professional criminals and experienced migrants motivated by family ties in the United States.
“If you think drug dealers and terrorists are much more dangerous than maids and gardeners, then we should get as many visas as possible to those people, so we can focus on the real threat,” said David Shirk, director of the Transborder Institute at the University of San Diego. “Widening the gates would strengthen the walls.”
Crime and the Border
The border crossers pouring into Arizona a decade or two ago were more numerous, but less likely to be threatening. David Jimarez, a Border Patrol agent with years of experience south of Tucson, recalled that even when migrants outnumbered American authorities by 25 to 1, they did not resist. “They would just sit down and wait for us,” he said.
Over the past few years, the mix has changed, with more drug smugglers and other criminals among the dwindling, but still substantial, ranks of migrants.
The impacts are far-reaching. In northern Mexico, less immigration means less business. Border towns like Agua Prieta, long known as a departure point, have gone from bustling to windblown. Taxis that ferried migrants to the mountains now gather dust. Restaurants and hotels, like the sunflower-themed Girasol downtown, are practically empty. On one recent afternoon, only 3 of the 50 rooms were occupied.
“In 2000, we were full every day,” said Alejandro Rocha, the hotel’s manager.
New research from the University of California, San Diego, shows that crime is now the top concern for Mexicans thinking of heading north. As fear keeps many migrants home, many experienced border guides, or coyotes, have given up illegal migration for other jobs.
In Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, one well-known coyote is now selling tires. In Nogales, the largest Mexican city bordering Arizona, power has shifted to tattooed young men with expensive binoculars along the border fence, while here in Agua Prieta — where Mexican officials say traffic is one-thirthieth of what it once was — the only way to get across is to deal with gangs that sometimes push migrants to carry drugs.
It is even worse in Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Tex. Just standing at the border fence brings out drug cartel enforcers demanding $300 for the right to pass. Migrants and the organizations that assist them say cartel lieutenants roam the shelters, looking for deportees willing to work as lookouts, earning $400 a week until they have enough to pay for passage north.
“I was thinking about doing it, too,” said Daniel, looking down. “But then I thought about my family.”
American law enforcement officials say the matrix of drugs, migration and violence has become more visible at the border and along the trails and roads heading north, where more of the immigrants being caught carry drugs or guns — making them more likely to flee, resist arrest or commit other crimes.
“There’s less traffic, but traffic that’s there is more threatening,” Mr. Jimarez, the border agent, said.
Larry Dever, the sheriff of Cochise County, Ariz., which sits north of Agua Prieta, agreed: “The guys smuggling people and narcotics now are more sinister.”
His county, 6,169 square miles of scrub brush, ranches and tiny towns in the state’s southeast corner, has been an established crossing corridor since the mid-1990s. Since 2008, the police there have tracked every crime linked to illegal immigrants, in part because state and federal officials frequently requested data, treating the county as a bellwether of border security.
Indeed, when a Cochise rancher named Robert Krentz was killed in March 2010 after radioing to his brother that he was going to help a suspected illegal immigrant, the county quickly became a flash point for a larger debate that ultimately led to SB 1070, the polarizing Arizona bill giving the police more responsibility for cracking down on illegal immigrants.
Yet, crime involving illegal immigrants is relatively rare (5 percent of all local crime, Sheriff Dever said). Mostly it consists of burglaries involving stolen food. And, public records show, in 11 of the 18 violent crimes linked to illegal immigrants over 18 months, immigrants were both the victims and attackers.
This is not the portrait given by Republican border governors, including Rick Perry of Texas, a presidential candidate who recently said that “it is not safe on that border.” But while Mexican drug cartels have increased their presence from Tucson to New York — sometimes engaging in brutal violence after entering the country illegally — Americans living near the border are generally safe.
A USA Today analysis of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California in July found that crime within 100 miles of the border is below both the national average and the average for each of those states — and has been declining for years. Several other independent researchers have come to the same conclusion.
But the border is not safe for people crossing or patrolling it. The number of immigrants found dead in the Arizona desert, from all causes, has failed to decline as fast as illegal immigration has, while assaults on Border Patrol agents grew by 41 percent from 2006 to 2010, almost entirely because of an increase in attacks with rocks. The heightened risks have stimulated a debate: Has the more aggressive approach — bigger fences, more agents and deportations — contributed to, or diminished, the danger?
Sheriff Dever, lionized as an “illegal immigration warrior” by immigration opponents, says that increased enforcement has made Americans safer and should continue until his neighbors tell him they are no longer afraid.
But some immigration advocates contend that the government’s approach is too broad to be effective. “We have to really separate out the guy who is coming to make a living with his family from the terrorist or the drug dealer,” said Peter Siavelis, an editor of “Getting Immigration Right: What Every American Needs to Know.”
Home Is Where the Children Are
Deportations have muddled that delineation. In a recent line of deportees piling off a bus on the San Diego side of a metal gate leading to Tijuana, all were equal: the criminal in prison garb with the wispy goatee; the mother averting her eyes; and longtime residents like Alberto Álvarez, 36, a janitor and father of five who said he was picked up for driving without a license.
“Look, I’ve been in the U.S. 18 years,” he said, slinging a backpack over his Izod shirt. “Right now, my children are alone, my wife is alone caring for the kids by herself — they’ve separated us.”
During the immigration wave that peaked around a decade ago, deportations often meant something different: many deportees had not been in the United States for long; they were going home.
But now that there are fewer new arrivals, the concept of home is changing. Of the roughly 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, 48 percent arrived before 2000. For the 6.5 million Mexicans in the United States illegally, that figure is even higher — 55 percent, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. There are now also 4.5 million American-born children of unauthorized immigrant parents.
Experts on both sides of the debate say this large group of rooted immigrants presents the nation with a fundamental choice: Either make life in the United States so difficult for illegal immigrants that they leave on their own, or allow immigrants who pose no threat to public safety to remain with their families legally, though not necessarily as citizens.
Steven A. Camarota, a demographer at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, said the government should revoke automatic citizenship for children born to illegal immigrants, and seize assets from deported illegal immigrants so they have fewer incentives to return.
President Obama, having made no progress on getting his legalization plan through Congress, has instead been trying to make enforcement more surgical. Under the new guidelines, officials will use “prosecutorial discretion” to review the current docket of 300,000 deportation cases, suspending expulsions for a range of immigrants.
Several factors prompt “particular care and consideration” for a reprieve, including whether the person has been in the United States since childhood, or is pregnant, seriously ill, a member of the military or a minor, according to a June memo that initiated the change.
The issue of “whether the person has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, child or parent” appears in the memo’s secondary list of factors to consider. But it is not clear how broadly leniency will be applied. Repeat crossers are given a special black mark, and the administration has already deported hundreds of thousands of minor offenders, despite claiming to focus on “the worst of the worst.”
Several Democratic governors and law enforcement officials are particularly angry about Secure Communities, a program to run the fingerprints of anyone booked by the police to check for federal immigration violations. A large proportion of those deported through this process — 79 percent, according to a recent report by the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University — were low-level offenders, often arrested for traffic violations.
Administration officials dispute that, saying the ratio of serious criminals is increasing, and that ultimately they must enforce immigration law against all violators. They have mandated that the program be used nationwide by 2013.
Mexico’s border cities offer a portrait of what that could mean. Nearly 950,000 Mexican immigrants have been deported since the start of fiscal 2008. And in Tijuana — a former hub for migrants heading north, which now receives more deportees than anywhere else — the pool of deportees preparing to cross again just keeps growing.
Maria García, 27, arrived here after being deported for a traffic violation. She said she had spent six years living in Fresno, Calif., with her two Mexico-born sons, 11 and 7. She was one of many who said that without a doubt, they would find their way back to the United States.
“They can’t stop us,” she said.
The constant flow of deportees has become a growing concern for Mexican officials, who say the new arrivals are easy recruits, and victims, for drug cartels.
One former deportee was arrested this year for playing a major role in the deaths of around 200 people found in mass graves. In Tijuana, a homeless camp at the border has swollen from a cluster to a neighborhood, as deportees flow in, many carrying stories of being robbed or kidnapped by gangs who saw their American connections as a source for ransom.
Minutes after he arrived, Mr. Álvarez, the janitor, said he was worried about surviving — “you’re playing with your life being here,” he said. But his twin sons would turn 2 in a few weeks, and like many others, he said that no matter how he was treated in the United States, he would find his way back.
“I feel bad being here, I feel bad,” he said. “I’ve got my kids over there, my family, my whole life. Here” — he shook his head at the end of his first day in Tijuana — “no.”
CCIS co-director David FitzGerald was interviewed by Radio Free Europe about the U.S. Diversity Visa Program.
CCIS director John Skrentny comments on the battle regarding California’s college financial aid bill for illegal immigrants.
BY ALAN GOMEZ SEPTEMBER 13, 2011
Nearly 20 years ago, California became the first state to crack down on immigration when voters approved a measure that cut off education, health and other benefits to illegal immigrants and their children.
Now, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is considering signing a bill that would grant financial aid to some illegal immigrants attending state colleges and universities. That would be in
addition to laws that allow some illegal immigrants to pay in-
state tuition and let them accept privately funded college
As states such as Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina push hard stances against illegal immigrants, the turnaround in the Golden State is viewed as either a Democratic-controlled Legislature ignoring the will of Californians, or a path that other states will soon be following.
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Republican, is convinced that people in his state are opposed to the state’s move toward acceptance of illegal immigrants. When Californians approved Proposition 187 — the voter referendum that cut benefits to illegal immigrants — in 1994, it passed with 59% of the vote.
He’s confident that voters still feel that way, so he’s prepared to push for another voter referendum to overturn the college financial aid bill if Brown signs it into law.
“Why is an illegal’s dream more important than an American’s dream?” asked Donnelly, who founded a Minuteman group to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border before being elected to office. “There’s a tsunami of discontent with this bill. Outrage isn’t even a strong enough word.”
The bill, passed Sept. 2 by the Legislature, would give illegal immigrant students about $40million in financial aid and fee waivers.
Anti-immigration groups says it makes even less sense when considering California’s financial plight.
“With a state that’s billions of dollars in the red — our own version of Greece in the United States — the idea of giving additional taxpayer money to illegal immigrants is surreal,” said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates lower levels of immigration. “It’s hard to believe.”
Some say the state’s growing acceptance of illegal immigrants is a preview of what will happen as Hispanics — the fastest-growing demographic in the country — spread out to new states and establish families.
“It appears that you get the most anti-immigration sentiment where immigrant populations are newer and where they are growing and when there’s a climate where political leaders are drawing attention to this,” said John Skrentny, director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California-San Diego.
A poll last year found that, for the first time, more Californians opposed a new version of Prop 187, according to a University of Southern California Dornsife College/Los Angeles Times poll.
Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, said that’s partly a result of more Hispanics entering the state and non-Hispanics leaving in recent decades. But he said the poll found that young, white voters were far more likely to oppose laws that bar illegal immigrants from receiving benefits because so many had grown up surrounded by Hispanics.
“Because younger Californians are growing up in a multiethnic, multicultural society, they’re much less likely to draw these types of distinctions than older voters,” Schnur said.
That helps explain why states farther north and east are just recently starting their anti-immigration battles, Skrentny said.
Georgia, which passed an anti-immigration law this year that was blocked by a federal judge, saw its Hispanic population nearly double from 2000 to 2010. South Carolina passed another anti-immigration law, which is being challenged in federal court, after its Hispanic population rose by 148% over the same time . And Indiana, which passed an anti-immigration law that has been halted by a federal judge, saw an additional 170,000 Hispanics pour into the state in the past decade.
“These are folks that are not used to this kind of ethnic diversity,” Skrentny said. “That suggests that places like Alabama and Georgia are closer to where California was in the 1990s, and it suggests that California has moved on.”