Crossing Over, and Over

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

tijuna

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.”

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California weighs college aid for illegal immigrants



CCIS director John Skrentny comments on the battle regarding California’s college financial aid bill for illegal immigrants.


BY ALAN GOMEZ   SEPTEMBER 13, 2011

Calif-bill-aids-illegal-immigrants-in-college-RTCJT2E-x
Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, left, is congratulated by Gov. Jerry Brown in July after the state’s Dream Act was passed, allowing illegal residents to receive privately funded scholarships. (Damien Dovarganes, AP)

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
grants.

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.”

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Mexican-Americans in Palm Springs (The Desert Sun)

CCIS Director Emeritus Wayne Cornelius discusses the Mexican-American population in Palm Springs in The Desert Sun “Job scarcity may have hindered Mexican-Americans’ migration to Palm Springs” and “Mexican-Americans, Palm Springs’ largest minority, have curiously brief recorded history”.


Job scarcity may have hindered Mexican-Americans’ migration to Palm Springs

BY BRUCE FESSIER   AUGUST 20, 2011

Anthropologist Lowell Bean finds it hard to believe that no Mexican- Americans were born in Palm Springs before 1925.

After all, the Coachella Valley was part of Mexico before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War in 1848.

“Indian women all over Southern California had been marrying Mexicans or Spanish since the 1780s,” said Bean, a Palm Springs resident and former California State University, East Bay professor. “It seems odd.”

But Bean and Wayne Cornelius, founder of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego, agree that Palm Springs has less of a Mexican influence than most cities in the American Southwest because so few Mexican-Americans settled here before the 1930s.

“Mexicans couldn’t find jobs here,” said Bean. “Until there were jobs, there was no reason to come here unless they intermarried.”

Cornelius believes the absence of a large Mexican-American population before World War II can be traced back to the earliest explorations of California. From 1774 to 1776, Juan Bautista De Anza led the first Spanish colonizing expedition through East Riverside County, but he didn’t come to Palm Springs on his way through the San Gorgonio Pass. Jose Romero led a Mexican expedition to Palm Springs in 1823, but didn’t leave any settlers behind.

“I think Palm Springs was bypassed by that first wave of explorers,” Cornelius said.

Agua Caliente records show the Cahuilla Indians began to travel to Southern California missions in the early 1800s to work as seasonal laborers. They learned Spanish and married in Catholic churches.

But non-Indians didn’t try to colonize Palm Springs until attorney John McCallum bought and sold parcels of Southern Pacific Railroad land in the 1880s with the dream of building an agricultural community.

Even then, there were no jobs for Latinos.

“The Indians were all working in agriculture for the ranchers before the Mexicans,” said Bean. “They were the basic labor force because the whites weren’t working class.”
“It wasn’t on a rail line,” said Cornelius. “Most of those clusters (of immigrants) were brought up to either build the railroads or work in agribusiness. It wasn’t big enough to require much labor.”

Cydronia Valdez said the most surprising thing she and her co-authors discovered in researching their book, “We Were Here Too! The History and the Contributions of the Original Mexican Families to the Palm Springs Village,” is that most of the first Mexican-Americans in Palm Springs migrated to America to escape the terror of Pancho Villa’s forces during the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s.

Pasqual Quiroz, whose father fled Mexico then and came to Palm Springs in the early ’20s, said Villa’s legend has been romanticized over the years.

“What my father told me was, when Pancho Villa came into a city all the people fled because they knew the soldiers were rapists and robbers,” said Quiroz. “They were nothing but a bunch of thieves.”

Many of the first Mexican families settled in Los Alamitos in Orange County, but according to “We Were Here Too” co-author Barbara Ayala Eves, they moved to Palm Springs because Los Alamitos “was not particularly fit for families.”

When Palm Springs began to grow in the 1920s, Quiroz said, “It had jobs and people started migrating.”

The Mexican-Americans lived in modest homes then on Indian reservation land separated from the opulent adobes by a line of Tamarisk trees.

“When jobs became available, working-class whites and Mexicans started moving in and the only place they were allowed to live was the reservation,” said Bean. “I don’t think anyone who was not white was wanted in Palm Springs unless they were living on the reservation or outside of town. It was a really racist place.”

U.S. Census figures don’t accurately reflect the number of Mexican-Americans who lived in Palm Springs before 1970. The census surveyed Hispanics/ Latinos in 1960, but defined them as Spanish-speaking people or Puerto Ricans.

Cornelius said the biggest Mexican migration to Palm Springs and the U.S. came in the ’90s when the robust economy was creating new jobs. He said immigration has recently decreased as the U.S. economy has faltered and the Mexican economy has grown.

“When the contractors went south,” said Cornelius, “so did migration.”

Better Lives for Mexicans Cut Allure of Going North

CCIS associate director David FitzGerald and director emeritus Wayne Cornelius’s research on migration was mentioned recently in a New York Times article about the suppression of illegal immigration in Mexico.


Economic, demographic and social changes in Mexico are suppressing illegal immigration as much as the poor economy or legal crackdowns in the United States.

BY DAMIEN CAVE   JULY 6, 2011

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

A growing body of evidence suggests that a mix of developments — expanding economic and educational opportunities, rising border crime and shrinking families — are suppressing illegal traffic as much as economic slowdowns or immigrant crackdowns in the United States.

Here in the red-earth highlands of Jalisco, one of Mexico’s top three states for emigration over the past century, a new dynamic has emerged. For a typical rural family like the Orozcos, heading to El Norte without papers is no longer an inevitable rite of passage. Instead, their homes are filling up with returning relatives; older brothers who once crossed illegally are awaiting visas; and the youngest Orozcos are staying put.

“I’m not going to go to the States because I’m more concerned with my studies,” said Angel Orozco, 18. Indeed, at the new technological institute where he is earning a degree in industrial engineering, all the students in a recent class said they were better educated than their parents — and that they planned to stay in Mexico rather than go to the United States.

Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton, an extensive, long-term survey in Mexican emigration hubs, said his research showed that interest in heading to the United States for the first time had fallen to its lowest level since at least the 1950s. “No one wants to hear it, but the flow has already stopped,” Mr. Massey said, referring to illegal traffic. “For the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative.”

The decline in illegal immigration, from a country responsible for roughly 6 of every 10 illegal immigrants in the United States, is stark. The Mexican census recently discovered four million more people in Mexico than had been projected, which officials attributed to a sharp decline in emigration.

American census figures analyzed by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center also show that the illegal Mexican population in the United States has shrunk and that fewer than 100,000 illegal border-crossers and visa-violators from Mexico settled in the United States in 2010, down from about 525,000 annually from 2000 to 2004. Although some advocates for more limited immigration argue that the Pew studies offer estimates that do not include short-term migrants, most experts agree that far fewer illegal immigrants have been arriving in recent years.

The question is why. Experts and American politicians from both parties have generally looked inward, arguing about the success or failure of the buildup of border enforcement and tougher laws limiting illegal immigrants’ rights — like those recently passed in Alabama and Arizona. Deportations have reached record highs as total border apprehensions and apprehensions of Mexicans have fallen by more than 70 percent since 2000.

But Mexican immigration has always been defined by both the push (from Mexico) and the pull (of the United States). The decision to leave home involves a comparison, a wrenching cost-benefit analysis, and just as a Mexican baby boom and economic crises kicked off the emigration waves in the 1980s and ’90s, research now shows that the easing of demographic and economic pressures is helping keep departures in check.

In simple terms, Mexican families are smaller than they had once been. The pool of likely migrants is shrinking. Despite the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico, birth control efforts have pushed down the fertility rate to about 2 children per woman from 6.8 in 1970, according to government figures. So while Mexico added about one million new potential job seekers annually in the 1990s, since 2007 that figure has fallen to an average of 800,000, according to government birth records. By 2030, it is expected to drop to 300,000.

Even in larger families like the Orozcos’ — Angel is the 9th of 10 children — the migration calculation has changed. Crossing “mojado,” wet or illegally, has become more expensive and more dangerous, particularly with drug cartels dominating the border. At the same time, educational and employment opportunities have greatly expanded in Mexico. Per capita gross domestic product and family income have each jumped more than 45 percent since 2000, according to one prominent economist, Roberto Newell. Despite all the depictions of Mexico as “nearly a failed state,” he argued, “the conventional wisdom is wrong.”

A significant expansion of legal immigration — aided by American consular officials — is also under way. Congress may be debating immigration reform, but in Mexico, visas without a Congressionally mandated cap on how many people can enter have increased from 2006 to 2010, compared with the previous five years.

State Department figures show that Mexicans who have become American citizens have legally brought in 64 percent more immediate relatives, 220,500 from 2006 through 2010, compared with the figures for the previous five years. Tourist visas are also being granted at higher rates of around 89 percent, up from 67 percent, while American farmers have legally hired 75 percent more temporary workers since 2006.

Edward McKeon, the top American official for consular affairs in Mexico, said he had focused on making legal passage to the United States easier in an effort to prevent people from giving up and going illegally. He has even helped those who were previously illegal overcome bans on entering the United States.

“If people are trying to do the right thing,” Mr. McKeon said, “we need to send the signal that we’ll reward them.”

Hard Years in Jalisco

When Angel Orozco’s grandfather considered leaving Mexico in the 1920s, his family said, he wrestled with one elemental question: Will it be worth it?

At that point and for decades to come, yes was the obvious answer. In the 1920s and ’30s — when Paul S. Taylor came to Jalisco from California for his landmark study of Mexican emigration — Mexico’s central highlands promised little more than hard living. Jobs were scarce and paid poorly. Barely one of three adults could read. Families of 10, 12 and even 20 were common, and most children did not attend school.

Comparatively, the United States looked like a dreamland of technology and riches: Mr. Taylor found that the wages paid by the railroads, where most early migrants found legal work, were five times what could be earned on farms in Arandas, the municipality that includes Agua Negra.

Orozco family members still talk about the benefits of that first trip. Part of the land the extended family occupies today was purchased with American earnings from the 1920s. When Angel’s father, Antonio, went north to pick cotton in the 1950s and ’60s with the Bracero temporary worker program, which accepted more than 400,000 laborers a year at its peak, working in the United States made even more sense. The difference in wages had reached 10 to 1. Arandas was still dirt poor.

Antonio, with just a few years of schooling, was one of many who felt that with a back as strong as a wooden church door, he could best serve his family from across the border.

“I sent my father money so he could build his house,” Antonio said.

Legal status then meant little. After the Bracero program ended in 1964, Antonio said, he crossed back and forth several times without documentation. Passage was cheap. Work lasting for a few months or a year was always plentiful. So when his seven sons started to become adults in the 1990s, he encouraged them to go north as well. Around 2001, he and two of his sons were all in the United States working — part of what is now recognized as one of the largest immigration waves in American history.

But even then, illegal immigration was becoming less attractive. In the mid-1990s, the Clinton administration added fences and federal agents to what were then the main crossing corridors beyond Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez. The enforcement push, continued by President George W. Bush and President Obama, helped drive up smuggling prices from around $700 in the late 1980s to nearly $2,000 a decade later, and the costs continued to climb, according to research from the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego. It also shifted traffic to more dangerous desert areas near Arizona.

Antonio said the risks hit home when his nephew Alejandro disappeared in the Sonoran Desert around 2002. A father of one and with a pregnant wife, Alejandro had been promised work by a friend. It took years for the authorities to find his body in the arid brush south of Tucson. Even now, no one knows how he died.

But for the Orozcos, border enforcement was not the major deterrent. Andrés Orozco, 28, a middle son who first crossed illegally in 2000, said that while rising smuggling costs and border crime were worries, there were always ways to avoid American agents. In fact, while the likelihood of apprehension has increased in recent years, 92 to 98 percent of those who try to cross eventually succeed, according to research by Wayne A. Cornelius and his colleagues at the University of California, San Diego.

A Period of Progress

Another important factor is Mexico itself. Over the past 15 years, this country once defined by poverty and beaches has progressed politically and economically in ways rarely acknowledged by Americans debating immigration. Even far from the coasts or the manufacturing sector at the border, democracy is better established, incomes have generally risen and poverty has declined.

Here in Jalisco, a tequila boom that accelerated through the 1990s created new jobs for farmers cutting agave and for engineers at the stills. Other businesses followed. In 2003, when David Fitzgerald, a migration expert at the University of California, San Diego, came to Arandas, he found that the wage disparity with the United States had narrowed: migrants in the north were collecting 3.7 times what they could earn at home.

That gap has recently shrunk again. The recession cut into immigrant earnings in the United States, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, even as wages have risen in Mexico, according to World Bank figures. Jalisco’s quality of life has improved in other ways, too. About a decade ago, the cluster of the Orozco ranches on Agua Negra’s outskirts received electricity and running water. New census data shows a broad expansion of such services: water and trash collection, once unheard of outside cities, are now available to more than 90 percent of Jalisco’s homes. Dirt floors can now be found in only 3 percent of the state’s houses, down from 12 percent in 1990.

Still, education represents the most meaningful change. The census shows that throughout Jalisco, the number of senior high schools or preparatory schools for students aged 15 to 18 increased to 724 in 2009, from 360 in 2000, far outpacing population growth. The Technological Institute of Arandas, where Angel studies engineering, is now one of 13 science campuses created in Jalisco since 2000 — a major reason professionals in the state, with a bachelor’s degree or higher, also more than doubled to 821,983 in 2010, up from 405,415 in 2000.

Similar changes have occurred elsewhere. In the poor southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, for instance, professional degree holders rose to 525,874 from 244,322 in 2000.

And the data from secondary schools like the one the Orozcos attended in Agua Negra suggests that the trend will continue. Thanks to a Mexican government program called “schools of quality” the campus of three buildings painted sunflower yellow has five new computers for its 71 students, along with new books.

Teachers here, in classrooms surrounded by blue agave fields, say that enrollment is down slightly because families are having fewer children, and instead of sending workers north, some families have moved to other Mexican cities — a trend also found in academic field research. Around half the students now move on to higher schooling, up from 30 percent a decade ago.

“They’re identifying more with Mexico,” said Agustín Martínez González, a teacher. “With more education, they’re more likely to accept reality here and try to make it better.”

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

If these trends — particularly Mexican economic growth — continue over the next decade, Mr. Passel said, changes in the migration dynamic may become even clearer. “At the point where the U.S. needs the workers again,” he said, “there will be fewer of them.”

Praying for Papers

The United States, of course, has not lost its magnetic appeal. Illegal traffic from Central America has not dropped as fast as it has from Mexico, and even in Jalisco town plazas are now hangouts for men in their 30s with tattoos, oversize baseball caps and a desire to work again in California or another state. Bars with American names — several have adopted Shrek — signal a back and forth that may never disappear.

But more Mexicans are now traveling legally. Several Orozco cousins have received temporary worker visas in the past few years. In March, peak migration season for Jalisco, there were 15 people from Agua Negra at the border waiting to cross.

“And 10 had visas,” said Ramón Orozco, 30, another son of Antonio who works in the town’s government office after being the first in his family to go to college. “A few years ago there would have been 100, barely any with proper documents.”

This is not unique to Agua Negra. A few towns away at the hillside shrine of St. Toribio, the patron saint of migrants, prayers no longer focus on asking God to help sons, husbands or brothers crossing the desert. “Now people are praying for papers,” said María Guadalupe, 47, a longtime volunteer.

How did this happen?

Partly, emigrants say, illegal life in the United States became harder. Laws restricting illegal immigrants’ rights or making it tougher for employers to hire them have passed in more than a dozen states since 2006. The same word-of-mouth networks that used to draw people north are now advising against the journey. “Without papers all you’re thinking about is, when are the police going to stop you or what other risks are you going to face,” said Andrés Orozco.

Andrés, a horse lover who drives a teal pickup from Texas, is one of many Orozcos now pinning their hopes on a visa. And for the first time in years, the chances have improved.

Mexican government estimates based on survey data show not just a decrease in migration overall, but also an increase in border crossings with documents. In 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, 38 percent of the total attempted crossings, legal and illegal, were made with documents. In 2007, only 20 percent involved such paperwork.

The Mexican data counts attempted crossings, not people, and does not differentiate between categories of visas. Nor does it mention how long people stayed, nor whether all the documents were valid.

Advocates of limited immigration worry that the issuing of more visas creates a loophole that can be abused. Between 40 and 50 percent of the illegal immigrants in the United States entered legally with visas they overstayed, as of 2005, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

More recent American population data, however, shows no overall increase in the illegal Mexican population. That suggests that most of the temporary visas issued to Mexicans — 1.1 million in 2010 — are being used legitimately even as American statistics show clearly that visa opportunities have increased.

Easing a Chaotic Process

One man, Mr. McKeon, the minister counselor who oversees all consular affairs in Mexico, has played a significant role in that expansion.

A lawyer with a white beard and a quick tongue, Mr. McKeon arrived in the summer of 2007. And after more than 30 years working in consular affairs in China, Japan and elsewhere, he quickly decided to make changes in Mexico. Working within administrative rules, State Department officials say, he re-engineered the visa program to de-emphasize the affordability standard that held that visas were to be denied to those who could not prove an income large enough to support travel to the United States.

In a country where a person can cross the border with a 25-cent toll, Mr. McKeon said, the income question was irrelevant. “You have to look at everyone individually,” he said in an interview at his office in Mexico City. “I don’t want people to say, here’s the income floor, over yes, lower no.”

This led to an almost immediate decrease in the rejection rate for tourist visas. Before he arrived, around 32 percent were turned down. Since 2008, the rate has been around 11 percent.

Mr. McKeon — praised by some immigration lawyers for bringing consistency to a chaotic process — was also instrumental in expanding the temporary visa program for agricultural workers. Called H-2A, this is one of the few visa categories without a cap.

Around 2006, as the debate over immigration became more contentious, employers concentrated in the Southeast began applying for more workers through the program. Mr. McKeon began hosting conferences with all the stakeholders and deployed new technology and additional staff members. The waiting time for several visa categories decreased, government reports show. For H-2As, Mexican workers can now receive their documents the same day that they apply.

Mr. McKeon also pushed to make the program more attractive to Mexicans who might otherwise cross the border illegally. Two years ago, he eliminated a $100 visa issuance fee that was supposed to be covered by employers but was usually paid by workers. And he insisted that his staff members change their approach with Mexicans who had previously worked illegally in the United States.

“The message used to be, if you were working illegally, lie about it or don’t even try to go legally because we won’t let you,” said one senior State Department official. “What we’re saying now is, tell us you did it illegally, be honest and we’ll help you.”

Specifically, consulate workers dealing with H-2A applicants who were once illegal — making them subject to 3- or 10-year bans depending on the length of their illegal stay — now regularly file electronic waiver applications to the United States Customs and Border Patrol. About 85 percent of these are now approved, Mr. McKeon said, so that in 2010 most of the 52,317 Mexican workers with H-2A visas had previously been in the United States illegally.

“It’s not easy to go through this process,” Mr. McKeon said, “and I think people who are willing to go through all of that and risk going back to the United States where they have to pay taxes, and withholding, I think we should look favorably on them.”

Speaking as the son of a New Jersey plumber, he added: “My bias is toward people who sweat at work because I really think that’s the backbone of our country. With limited resources, I’d rather devote our efforts to keeping out a drug kingpin than trying to find someone who works a couple of months at Cousin Hector’s body shop.”

A Divisive Topic

In the heated debate over immigration, however, this topic is inevitably divisive. Pro-immigrant groups, when told of the expansion to legal immigration, say it still may not be enough in a country where the baby boomers are retiring in droves.

Farmers still complain that the H-2A visa program is too complicated and addresses only a portion of the total demand. As of 2010, there were 1,381,896 Mexicans still waiting for their green-card applications to be accepted or rejected. And the United States currently makes only 5,000 green cards annually available worldwide for low-wage workers to immigrate permanently; in recent years, only a few of those have gone to Mexicans.

On the other side, Steven A. Camarota, a demographer at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which favors reduced immigration, said that increasing the proportion of legal entries did little good.

“If you believe there is significant job competition at the bottom end of the labor market, as I do, you’re not fixing the problem,” Mr. Camarota said. “If you are concerned about the fiscal cost of unskilled immigration and everyone comes in on temporary visas and overstays, or even if they don’t, the same problems are likely to apply.”

By his calculations, unskilled immigrants like the Orozcos have, over the years, helped push down hourly wages, especially for young, unskilled American workers. Immigrants are also more likely to rely on welfare, he said, adding to public costs.

The Orozco clan, however, may point to a different future. Angel Orozco, like many other young Mexicans, now talks about the United States not as a place to earn money, but rather as a destination for fun and spending.

Today he is just a lanky, shy freshman wearing a Daughtry T-shirt and living in a two-room apartment with only a Mexican flag and a rosary for decoration.

But his dreams are big and local. After graduating, he said, he hopes to work for a manufacturing company in Arandas, which seems likely because the director of his school says that nearly 90 percent of graduates find jobs in their field. Then, Angel said, he will be able to buy what he really wants: a shiny, new red Camaro.

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Former CCIS Researcher Whitney L. Duncan’s new work on mental health issues in Mexico highlighted by UC Global Health Institute

Former CCIS Researcher Whitney L. Duncan’s new work on mental health issues in Mexico highlighted by UC Global Health Institute.


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Whitney L. Duncan, MA

PhD Candidate, Anthropology
UC San Diego

To tackle formidable problems in global health, scholars come from a wide range of disciplines. PhD candidate Whitney Duncan never guessed as an English Literature major at Columbia University that she would be conducting studies on mental health and migration in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Duncan worked as a freelance writer and editor for several years after graduating. Her experience at El Diario, a Spanish language newspaper in New York, combined with growing involvement with the migrant farmworker community in the Hudson Valley, solidified her interest in working with the Latino community.

“I wanted a deeper understanding of the issues I was drawn to journalistically, particularly migration and mental health,” says Duncan. “I felt strongly about approaching these problems through long-term research on both sides of the border.”

She decided to pursue a PhD in anthropology, and says she was fortunate to be able to do so in San Diego. “Because of the large Mexican migrant population in the area, I was able to begin volunteering and researching early on in graduate school,” she says.

Her Master’s thesis was based on work with an support group for Mexican migrant women. While completing her thesis, Whitney began volunteering at the Bayside Community Center, which offers English and Spanish courses for Mixteco (indigenous people from the region of La Mixteca) migrants, setting the stage for her research in Oaxaca. While in Oaxaca on a Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship to study the Mixtec language, Whitney was drawn to what seemed like a proliferation of psychiatric and psychological services.

“Oaxaca is known for its thriving tradition of indigenous medicine,” she says. “The new popularity of mental healthcare struck me as a historical change that was probably impacting local culture and understandings of illness in important ways. I also wondered if and how the shift was related to migration.”

She received a National Science Foundation grant to conduct fieldwork on the changing landscape of mental health in Oaxaca, and is currently writing her dissertation.

Reflecting on her research, Whitney recalls meeting patients—many of them former migrants—who traveled long distances to seek care at a psychiatric hospital outside Oaxaca City.

“Many people came from communities over eight hours away for a 30-minute appointment,” says Duncan. “Clearly, despite the sudden growth in services, access to mental healthcare remains an issue.” Whitney’s work highlights the importance of understanding the social determinants of health as well as the risks and benefits of globalizing approaches to health care.

Duncan presented findings from her research at the first-ever UC Global Health Day last November (see video).

In addition to conducting her own research, Whitney has collaborated with the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies (CCIS) at UCSD. From 2007-2008 and in 2011, she worked with the Center’s Mexican Migration Field Research Program (MMFRP) in San Miguel Tlacotepec, Oaxaca. They are currently writing their second book about the effects of migration on the community.

“UC San Diego turned out to be the best place for what I am doing – and CCIS has been a great resource,” says Duncan.

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South Carolina Latest State To Enact A Controversial Immigration Law

As a Republican-controlled state, South Carolina has been added to the list of states being sued over their controversial immigration laws.

In the meantime, Congress has been deadlocked on immigration reform, with no major changes after a reform effort fell apart in 2007.

CCIS Director John Skrentny provides background.


BY TYLER KINGKADE   JUNE 26, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Gov. Nikki Haley added South Carolina to the list of Republican-controlled states to implement harsh immigration laws when she signed her state’s copycat bill to Arizona’s SB 1070 on Monday despite objections from a coalition of 21 faith and civil rights groups.

South Carolina is now poised to join Arizona, Georgia and Texas, all of which are being sued over their immigration measures, with lawsuits threatened by the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center and other advocacy groups.

“It invites racial profiling,” said Victoria Middleton, director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “And it basically will subject anyone who looks or sounds foreign to discrimination.”

The South Carolina legislation was modeled off of the infamous SB 1070 Arizona immigration enforcement law, empowering local police to ask for documents to prove a person’s legal status. Police can check the status of anyone they suspect to be in the country illegally during an arrest or a traffic stop for anything other than speeding.

Also on Monday, a federal judge in Georgia blocked parts of the state’s similar immigration crackdown law — including the provision that allowed local police to check a person’s legal status and a measure that punished anyone who knowingly harbored an illegal immigrant.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash questioned the intent of the Georgia government and whether it could effectively carry out an immigration overhaul as a state. He ultimately wrote that the state was entering federal jurisdiction.

“I mean, you are not going to have 50 systems of immigration regulation,” Thrash said last Monday in court. “In Georgia, you are going to have 159. Every county, every municipality is going to decide what its immigration policy is going to be under this law.”

South Carolina and Georgia are two of the 26 states to introduce bills copying Arizona’s SB 1070, but so far none have been successfully implemented, according to the Latino advocacy organization National Council of La Raza. Many states sought various immigration reforms this year, emboldened by the Republican sweeps in legislatures and governor’s offices throughout the country in 2010, but the reforms were wiped out in legislatures that focused on the economy and other issues during their sessions.

In the meantime, Congress has been deadlocked on immigration reform, with no major changes after a reform effort fell apart in 2007. Even incremental changes to the immigration system, such as the DREAM Act to legalize some undocumented young people who came to the United States as children, have been unable to pass the Senate.

Instead, the government continues to ramp up enforcement along the border to appease “restrictionists” who refuse to sign onto anything that includes legalization of the immigrants already in the U.S. until the border is completely sealed, said John D. Skrentny, director at the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies and a professor of sociology at University of California-San Diego.

“And so we keep throwing resources at the border and meanwhile advocates for immigrants keep saying, ‘Well look, this is bad for immigrants, they’re being exploited, it’s bad for American workers, they can be undercut. We gotta legalize these people, and many of them have been here for many years,’” Skrentny said. “So they’re at a deadlock on this.”

This led to frustration at the state level, where some legislatures have attempted to tackle illegal immigration on their own.

“Obviously this comes out of a frustration that I think everybody has over the broken immigration system,” said Elena Lacayo, immigration field coordinator for La Raza. “Everyone, I think, on both sides of the issue are very, very frustrated with what we have now. The status quo is clearly terrible for a lot of people — immigrants I think, especially — but a lot of other folks are concerned about what the consequences of the undocumented population [are].”

Other state-level proposals included cutting off public benefits and in-state tuition assistance for illegal immigrants. But states have also gone the other way, such as Maryland expanding tuition assistance and several opting out of the Secure Communities program, which checks for legal status whenever someone is detained.

“I’m not sure that there was any one thing that triggered state and local governments to get involved,” said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Mehlman argued states have acted because in the absence of Congressional action, they are the ones paying for immigrants’ education, emergency health care, and other services removed from the federal government’s eye.

“You have this dichotomy here where the federal government is charged with responsibility of making and enforcing immigration laws; state and local governments wind up bearing the burdens of illegal immigration,” he said.

But states are also getting entangled in expensive legal fees as these tough immigration laws get challenged in court. Farmers Branch, Texas, a town of about 26,000, spent more than $3 million defending a 2006 ordinance that fines landlords who rent to illegal aliens and allows local authorities to screen illegal aliens in police custody. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) assisted the town, as well as one in Pennsylvania in a similar battle.

Alabama passed a law like the Farmers Branch ordinance, which would potentially place a landlord in prison for up to 20 years if caught knowingly renting to undocumented immigrants. The Alabama law landed the state with a lawsuit from the ACLU.

Beyond costly lawsuits, though, there are other monetary risks to implementing a controversial immigration law modeled after Arizona’s, Lacayo said.

Religious groups, civil rights activists and the Mexican government have all actively petitioned against South Carolina’s new law, arguing the bill spends $1.3 million to create a statewide immigration police force, in addition to the legal costs to defend the lawsuit.

“We see a coalition of religious groups, business groups, that have really seen the impact of SB 1070′s law on Arizona’s economy and tourism and industry, and they’re really saying, ‘Well, we don’t want that in our state,’” she said. “And also the fact that a lot of states are facing budget problems and these measures aren’t free.”

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