Today’s irrational immigration debate shows that elected officials still don’t understand why Latin Americans are crossing the border illegally and they have no idea how to address the problem.
Apprehensions for illegal entry over the last few years stand at their lowest level since the 1970s.
To understand why the United States has the immigration problem it has, it’s best to look past the current crisis.
The Associated Press was the first to point out just how important Mexican immigrants, both legal and illegal, are to the health of the Mexican economy.
Last year, Mexicans in the U.S. wired $24.8 billion to family members.
That’s more than Mexico’s economy brought in from oil revenue and is nearly half of what a country the size of Brazil brings in from foreign direct investment (FDI).
Remittance payments have become an important economic lifeline for many Mexicans. According to an Inter-American Development Bank report on 17 Mexican families shipping money from the States, remittances are a difference between a working class lifestyle and poverty.
By some standards, the Mexico government is facing a dereliction of duty.
It has failed to support its lowest-skilled labor force nearly two decades after the North American Free Trade Agreement helped modernize its economy.
Mexico is not alone in this. Similar critiques can be made about other countries in Latin America, where the bulk of U.S.-bound migrants once lived.
Between drug violence in countries like El Salvador and rural poverty in Mexico, the U.S. is the closest hope for a decent life.
Many Americans, particularly those in the southern border states, wonder why Mexicans are still moving to the U.S. even as U.S. manufacturing moves to Mexico.
Here’s the simple reason: $2 per day poverty in the pueblos. Mexico’s elite, nearly all European descent, have kept the pueblo dwellers as second class citizens. Mexico City has been compliant in letting them turn to the U.S., often illegally, for financial support.
In 2013, 65% of the state of Puebla, around 125 miles out of Mexico City, lived below the World Bank poverty line of $2 a day.
International remittances account for just 3.4% of their GDP.
But compare that to a healthy state economy, where numbers like that are reserved for economic sectors like travel and tourism, or agriculture.
Puebla is Mexico’s sixth largest recipient of U.S. migrant FDI.
Then there’s Oaxaca, No. 8 on the list of U.S. remittances, according to the IADB report which interviewed families from those two states alone. Some 67% of Oaxaca residents lived on $2 a day in 2014.
Putting a stop on remittance payments for undocumented workers would increase poverty among low-skilled labor communities.
For Trump, and for many Americans too, this is Mexico’s problem.
Mexico’s government is aware of that.
Like many developing countries, the poor population outnumber the middle class, and barring massive social programs like that in Brazil, there is very little governments can do beyond large scale factory and construction work. When that’s not available, subsistence living becomes the norm.
The wall is not Peña Nieto’s problem. Money can still travel through walls. That’s why the remittances crack down on his citizens here in the U.S. is the real reason for worry.
Mexico may not be interested in helping the U.S. with illegal immigration not only because it’s a cash cow, but because it has very little means to give those people a shot at a better life.
Mexican migrants make up a large part of the U.S. immigrant population.
According to the 2013 American Community Survey, 28% of all migrants in the U.S. are from Mexico, accounting for an estimated population of 11.6 million adults.
Remittance payments average $200 per month.
After Mexico, Chinese immigrants sent an estimated $15 billion back to China in 2015, followed by India and the Philippines at $10 billion each.
Tiny Guatemala rounded out the top five with $5 billion in remittance flow last year, according to the U.S. Government Accounting Office.
Numerically speaking, it’s not particularly significant.
Since Mexicans are the largest national-origin group of undocumented immigrants in the United States, looking back at the case of Mexico can help provide a better understanding of the issue.
The number of Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. illegally has declined.
In 2014, 5.6 million unauthorized immigrants from Mexico lived in the U.S., down by about 1 million since 2007.
Despite the drop, Mexicans still make up about half (49% in 2014) of unauthorized immigrants. At the same time, unauthorized immigration overall has leveled off in recent years.
More non-Mexicans than Mexicans were apprehended at U.S. borders in 2014, the first time on record this has happened.
In fiscal 2014, 229,178 Mexicans were apprehended, a sharp drop from a peak of 1.6 million apprehended in 2000.
The decline in apprehensions reflects the decrease in number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants coming to the U.S.
Even as border apprehensions dropped, deportations of Mexican immigrants reached a record high in 2013 of 314,904, up from 169,031 in 2005.
This is due in part to a 2005 shift in policy that has increased the chances of being deported following apprehension in the border region, instead of just being sent back without an order of removal.
Mexican unauthorized immigrants are more likely than unauthorized immigrants overall to work in the construction industry and less likely to work in services. Among Mexican unauthorized immigrants ages 16 and older who were employed in 2012, 19% worked in construction and 13% worked in a wide range of businesses like legal services, landscaping and car washes.
By comparison, among unauthorized immigrant workers overall, 16% worked in construction and 22% in services.
Unauthorized immigrants from Mexico make up at least 75% of the total unauthorized immigrant population in 10 states: New Mexico (89%), Arizona (84%), Idaho (83%), Wyoming (82%), Colorado (78%), Oklahoma (76%), Wisconsin (76%), Kansas (75%), Oregon (75%) and Texas (75%).
Among these states, half saw a decline in the unauthorized immigrant population from 2009 to 2012.
Among all states, California saw the largest decline in the number of unauthorized immigrants (90,000) during this time period.
The Golden State is also home to 1.6 million unauthorized immigrants from Mexico, the most in the nation.
U.S. policies implemented long before DACA played a role in exacerbating the problem of illegal immigration, while some economic and demographic causes responsible for it have nothing to do with U.S. policy
- 1 Spanish colonizers arrived in North America about a century before the first Anglo settlers
The Church of San Jose de los Jemez, which was built in the 17th century during Spain’s colonization of New Mexico. (AP)
6 Congress irrationally restricted the number of immigrant visas for Mexicans
Despite the fact that the United States showed consistent demand for Mexican labor over the course of the mid-20th century, Congress capped the number of immigrant visas available to Mexicans after shutting down the Bracero Program.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 prohibited unskilled Mexican laborers from receiving Legal Permanent Resident visas, despite U.S. demand for labor and a large pool of unskilled labor in Mexico.