Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mexican Immigration to the United States: the Right Trend for the Wrong Reasons?

The New York Times published on July 6, 2011, an article titled “Better Lives for Mexicans Cut Allure of Going Wrong.” The main argument is that illegal immigration to the United States is going down in the last couple of years in comparison to a growing trend registered in 2000-2005. The reporter states that expanding economic and educational opportunities, rising border crime and shrinking families are important explanatory factors. These factors are as important as “economic slowdowns or immigrant crackdowns in the United States.”

The author quotes Professor D. Massey (Princeton University) saying that “for the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative.” The reporter uses the example of the Orozco family in Arandas, Jalisco, to make his point, and quotes researchers from the University of California San Diego to show the wage and quality of life progress for the Jalisco worker in Mexico.

On July 12 in Zacatecas, the Mexican President, Felipe Calderón, pointed out to this article, along with a similar one in The Economist, as an attestation that this diminishing trend of Mexican emigration towards the United States was led by the uprising generation of job opportunities in Mexico and its economic growth, among other factors.

I certainly agree with the reasons of this diminishing emigration trend, although I would not give the same weight to all the different variables that the reporter mentions in the article. And certainly, I would not base my conclusions in the study of only one Jalisco family in Mexico. That makes no sense at all.

I would say that the main factor that is upholding the diminishing emigration trend is the U.S. economy downturn and the increasing anti immigrant laws in U.S. states. Since 2007 the U.S. is not doing OK in job creation numbers, and that is currently affecting job opportunities for illegal and legal immigrants. Focusing on two thirds of immigrant jobs, the illegal ones for the Mexican case, whenever there is a lack of job opportunities, immigrants try to find jobs in the same city or region, then they move from the original place to another city or region looking for a job, then they consider going back to their places of origin. This centrifugal emigration caused by a weak U.S. economy is generally financed by the savings of the immigrant, the Mexican family´s little capital that could be send to the immigrant, and little temporary jobs as emigration takes place, or a combination of all of the above.

In the meantime, (during the last four years, this is) as difficulties arise trying to find jobs in the U.S., immigrants send back home a clear message: “Stop coming, it is difficult to find jobs here, stay back home for the moment.” This process takes time and the results are clearly lagged, that is why we see a diminishing trend of Mexican emigrants toward the U.S. until 2010-2011. Indeed, this trend is bad news for the recovery of the U.S. economy.

The hallucinating statement that Mexicans are staying home because things are getting better from a microeconomic standpoint is just crazy stuff. Although from a macroeconomic perspective Mexico is a good place to invest, from a microeconomic standpoint the case of the Orozco family is just a nice, interesting, and even cute case study, non representative of the Mexican reality. If the reporter goes to other selected locations in Mexico, he would find other happy stories; but in doing serious research he would realize that Mexicans stay home because they have little or no choice.

Some days ago, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography released data that confirm that between 2006 and 2010 the average family income in Mexico has gone down in 13.7%. This means that the poorer becomes the poorest, the former poorest go starving, and that an important share of rich guys in this country is taking their money abroad. The justice system is a total mess, corruption is rampant all over the place, democracy is in great danger, and more than 40,000 death have become the historical legacy of El Presidente Calderón.

All this also means that as soon as the economic downturn in the U.S. is reversed, chances are very high that Mexican immigration towards the U.S. will go back to their 2000-2005 levels, although it is important to pay attention to the relationship between capital and labor in marginal terms. In certain Mexican regions, mostly because of former high levels of emigration and because of war dynamics, the shortage of labor points out to higher levels of income to fulfill the demand for labor, although the narco-lords are indeed offering competitive wages in these regions for relatively non skilled jobs. In any instance, the New York Times should be more careful in disseminating this type of poorly-backed information.

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