Migrants’ New Paths Reshaping Latin America

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


BY DAMIEN CAVE   JANUARY 5, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


BY ELIZABETH AGUILERA JANUARY 1, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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David Keyes interviewed by KPBS

CCIS Graduate Student Researcher David Keyes was interviewed by KPBS on the change in border arrests.


BY MAUREEN CAVANAUGH, PATTY LANE   DECEMBER 7, 2011

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People wait in line to enter the U.S. at the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego, CA.
(Photo by Jose Luis Jiménez / KPBS)

New numbers from the United States government show that, this fiscal year, more undocumented immigrants were deported from the U.S. than were arrested when trying to enter.

In fact, arrests of immigrants at the border are at the lowest level in 40 years. We take a look at the numbers and look at the reasons for the decrease.

Audio Interview


Video Interview

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Presentation of Recession without Borders: Mexican migrants confront the economic downturn

El Colegio de la Frontera Norte
Invites you to the presentation of the book:

Recession Without Borders
Mexican Migrants Confront the Economic Downturn

Edited by David Scott FitzGerald, Rafael Alarcón and Leah Muse-Orlinoff

Discussants:
Dr. Gustavo Verduzco Igartúa
El Colegio de México

Dra. Paz Trigueros Legarreta
Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana – Azcapotzalco

Dr. Rafael Alarcón Acosta
El Colegio de la Frontera Norte

November 24, 2011
5:00pm, Casa Colef
Francisco Sosa 254, Barrui de Sabta Catarina
Delegación Coyoacán, México, D.F.
www.colef.mx

CCIS researchers present to congressional staffers and the Congressional Research Service

A group of researchers from CCIS recently traveled to Washington, DC to present the results of research carried out as part of the Mexican Migration Field Research Program. In a presentation sponsored by the offices of Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-California) and Representative Candice Miller (R-Michigan), CCIS researchers presented research dealing with topics including the impact of border enforcement measures and laws at the sub-national level that deal with immigration matters on the behavior of Mexican immigrants in the United States. The presentation to congressional staffers was followed by a roundtable discussion with members of the Congressional Research Service (CRS). In a wide-ranging discussion, CCIS staffers briefed CRS employees about some of the latest research on immigration.

Fenced In (The Dallas Morning News)



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


BY GABRIEL ESCOBAR   NOVEMBER 4, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ethnicity, Race, & Indigenous Peoples in Latin America & the Caribbean

On November 3-5, 2011, the University of California, San Diego will host the Second Conference on Ethnicity, Race, and Indigenous Peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean. The event is organized and sponsored by ERIP (LASA Section on Ethnicity, Race, and Indigenous Peoples), CILAS-UCSD (Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies, University of California, San Diego), CLAS-SDSU (Center for Latin American Studies, San Diego State University), LACES (Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, journal published by Taylor & Francis and housed at UCSD), Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies (University of California, San Diego), and CCIS (Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, University of California, San Diego).

As explained in the Call for Panels and Papers, the conference will cover topics related to all aspects of ethnicity, race relations, Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants and other ethnic or racial groups in Latin America and the Caribbean. Participants will include a large number of professional scholars and graduate students from a wide range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, as well as activists and practitioners from grassroots organizations and NGOs. The program will feature multiple thematic panels organized into parallel sessions, presentations by keynote speakers, and receptions and other events, beginning on Thursday November 3rd and continuing through Saturday November 5th.

The LASA Section on Ethnicity, Race, and Indigenous Peoples (ERIP) and the journal Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies (LACES) have jointly established a Travel Grants fund to assist participants’ travel from Latin American and the Caribbean, on a competitive basis. They will also sponsor the ERIP-LACES Student Paper Award to recognize the best work submitted by graduate students at the conference.

The First ERIP conference, which took place in May 2008 at the University of California, San Diego, brought together more than 300 participants and attendees. Because of the high level of interest and the existence of space, time and budget constraints, we urge prospective participants to submit their Panel Proposal Forms and Individual Paper Proposal Forms as early as possible in order to improve their chances of securing a place in the program.  Early registration is also recommended to those interested in simply attending the conference.

ERIP Conference Organizing and Program Committee:
Shannon Speed, Chair ERIP
Leon Zamosc, Chief Editor LACES
David Mares, Director CILAS-UCSD
Ramona Perez, Director CLAS-SDSU

US-Mexico Border Immersion Program

An Immersion program for the 2012 January Intersession is being sponsored by University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute.  The program offers a great opportunity to gain international experience and learn about the important issues surrounding the San Diego-Tijuana border community through political, economic, social, and theological spectrum.

For more information, view website and flyer.