Mexican-American Immigration: At "Net Zero"?

The Christian Science Monitor visits the Mexican village of Tamaula, and find things looking better -- and finds a Mexico where people are no longer running to the U.S. of A for a living. Details:

Since the Monitor last visited here in 2007, a major demographic shift has transformed this dusty village of 230. Migrants have come home, and with them have come other important changes. In 2007, there was no running water, no high school, no paved roads.

A simple water pipeline, installed in February, runs to each of the 50-some homes. On a recent day the first high school class, including eight students ages 15 to 40, was finishing up math homework. And now, the main roads are paved....

This is the new face of rural Mexico. Villages emptied out in the 1980s and '90s in one of the largest waves of migration in history. Today there are clear signs that a human tide is returning to towns both small and large across Mexico.

One million Mexicans said they returned from the US between 2005 and 2010, according to a new demographic study of Mexican census data. That's three times the number who said they'd returned in the previous five-year period.

And they aren't just home for a visit: One prominent sociologist in the US has counted "net zero" migration for the first time since the 1960s.

Experts say the implications for both nations are enormous – from the draining of a labor pool in the US to the need for a radical shift in policies in Mexico, which has long depended on the billions of dollars in migrant remittances as a social welfare cornerstone.....

As is common throughout human history (though never as fast as we might wish), the general quality of life is improving down Mexico way:

Today in Mexico there is greater access to education, growing per capita income, and lower fertility rates – all making a life here more viable. In turn, a life in the shadows of the US, separated from family often for years, is less palatable.

"The calculation is finally making people come back and decide to stay in Mexico," says Agustin Escobar, a demographer at the Center for Research in Social Anthropology in Guadalajara, Mexico....

At the macroeconomic level, Douglas Massey, founder of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton University, has documented what he calls "net zero" migration. The population of undocumented immigrants in the US fell from 12 million to approximately 11 million during the height of the financial crisis (2008-09), he says. And since then, Mexicans without documents aren't migrating at rates to replace the loss, creating a net zero balance for the first time in 50 years.....

Tamaula is a small slice of Mexico, but a telling one:

Of Tamaula's 100 men, about 10 have returned since 2007 – some willingly, like Pedro, and others because they lost jobs or didn't get guest-worker visas and are no longer willing to go north illegally.

Not a single person interviewed in Tamaula said he or she would go illegally today. One of them is Jorge Laguna, a cousin of Pedro's in Tamaula, a town made up of three extended families. He'd traveled annually to the US since 2005 as a temporary guest worker to toil as a gardener in Washington State, but this year he wasn't asked back.

In the past he might have tried his luck illegally – as he did when he was 15, spending five consecutive years in Georgia before returning home to visit his family. What was there to lose? If he got caught crossing, he could turn around and try again. If he couldn't find a job, he could come home or bide his time until the market rebounded. Now, at 28, he says he's not willing to risk his life: Migrants – including two from a nearby village – have gone missing. Their suitcases showed up at bus stations in northern Mexico.

"The situation would have to be really dire for me to try to go illegally today," Jorge says...

That fewer Mexicans are staying in America net is neither good nor bad in and of itself. It's good that Mexico is a better place to live, good in general if this pattern is a reflection of people's free choices, and maybe a little bit bad in a reflection of how little a land of opportunity America is right now. But this pattern is a solid sign that fears of immigration in the United States have moved into the realm of not just fear and ignorance, but pure fantasy.

Reason's classic 2006 cover story, "Immigration Now, Immigration Tomorrow, Immigration Forever."

Bonus immigration link: comics on immigration, 1880-1910.

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  • Monty Crisco||

    TAG! I'm IT!!!!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Today in Mexico there is greater access to education, growing per capita income, and lower fertility rates – all making a life here more viable. In turn, a life in the shadows of the US, separated from family often for years, is less palatable.

    They are suggesting the United States' harsh immigration policies are incentivizing Mexicans to stay and fix their problems at home rather than move away from them.

  • ||

    I was thinking that exact same thing. All of this could quite easily be read by closed-border types as a justification for everything they've done. "See, we made life as shitty and difficult for them as possible, and now they're going home. We were right!"

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Aren't they?

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Or alternatively.

    Obama's America is becoming a such a dystopian hell hole that living poor in rural Mexico is preferable.

  • Jeff||

    Why not both?


    Poor Mexican villages need birth control more than they need running water.

  • AlmightyJB||

    It's a right.

  • affenkopf||

  • sarcasmic||

    But the voices on AM radio said we're being overrun!



  • ||

    That just means the U.S. is as much a shithole as Mexico now.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Beat me to it. Also, this.

  • T||

    I've often felt the Mexican governments desire for immigrants to come here was two-fold. One, currency repatriation for the win. Two, it gets everybody from the lower classes with any drive and ambition out of the country and earning money instead of looking around and deciding to throw a revolution.

  • Marco||

    I thought the same. Better to deport possible revolutionaries if possible. Mexico is a mixed-race country run by white-Spaniards. Someday the people of Mexico will realize that.

  • affenkopf||

    Net zero? That's still to high! We need a negative rate!

  • AlmightyJB||

    If it wasn't for all of the violence there probably would be. Look at all of the potential for beach front homes down there.

  • WarrenT||

    If they all move back and start building on the shoreline they will soon be at Peak Beach and then what?

  • fried wylie||

    Sustainable BioBeach.

  • Kroneborge||

    Good news if this is true. A lower immigration rate would allow for the needed assimilation to happen which would lower resisitance to immigration

  • Ayn R. Key||

    Butters, also known as Mantequilla, the great leader of the Mexicans, has told everyone to go home.


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