Migration and Responsibility


Luis Rubio

“No immigration reform can expect to be successful if it clashes with human nature”. That is the way Demetrios Papademetriou sums up his view with respect to the U.S. migratory reform in a report* that he presented in Mexico this week. The immigration issue involves millions of Mexicans and persons of other nationalities who embarked upon the promising, but also dangerous, path in search of employment in the U.S. Now that the possibility is being discussed of a profound reform in the U.S., Mexico is faced with difficult decisions that would be indispensable for the legalization (immediate or protracted) of these millions of migrants.

The report of the Migration Policy Institute is oriented toward the U.S. discussion but, as the product of a study group that worked for more than two years –and that it involved numerous Mexicans including the group’s co-president, Mexico’s former President Ernesto Zedillo-, it embodies a great number of detailed analyses** on the nature of migration, the factors leading the potential migrant to undertake the complex process, the security conditions existing along the way and the political, economic and social problems that characterize Central America and Mexico, nations constituting an overwhelming proportion of the undocumented population. Whoever reads the report will be privy to a broad panorama of the changing dynamic of the migratory phenomenon, the complexity -political and practical- the possible solutions and their long-term implications for the U.S and for Mexico and Central America. The reader will also be able to appreciate that this reform, if approved, would be the last in a long time because, in contrast with the past, it boasts the active participation and responsibility of the employers.

The report sets out from the principle that immigration is sovereign in character –each country has full right to decide its population policy- but that this sovereign decision cannot ignore the changes that are taking place in countries such as Mexico. Although evidently a person who enters a country distinct from his or her own without first going through an immigration sentry terminal is breaking the law, the motivation of the vast majority of migrants is economic: the job market across the border is completely integrated and, with the exception of the growing difficulty of crossing the border itself, works in a highly efficient manner: when there is a demand the migratory current flows (as happened in the nineties), and when there isn’t one, the flow is negative. The report also emphasizes another key factor: Mexico has been experiencing basic changes in its economic structure and in its demographic profile, circumstances that allow consideration of a distinct economic future for the region, a future that could convert North America into a highly competitive region, very superior to that currently envisaged.

The changes that Mexico has undergone –some as the result legislative reforms, others as a consequence of the violence- have altered the migratory patterns, have modified the population type that migrates, how many do so and what motivates their decision. For example, a first effect of the pattern in migratory change is that the average schooling and skills of the most recent migrant are notably superior to those of the former cohorts. All this suggests, states the report, that the future of migratory matters is going to be very distinct from that of the past.

The most patent changes that have occurred in Mexico stem from the financial stability that the country has enjoyed for fifteen years (generating sources of  credit for housing and consumption that were previously inexistent); liberalization of imports (which has drastically diminished the proportion of the disposable income that families spend on food, clothing and shoes); the growing competitiveness of the domestic productive plant, as can be observed in industrial exports and that entails more, better paid, jobs; the remittances that have created a rural middle class, a factor that should modify the dominant perception in the U.S. about Mexico as an impoverished, corrupt and violent country. A person who already has a stable income and opportunities to raise his levels of consumption has a much lesser incentive to migrate than those of a farmer without a fixed income nor job options. In turn, insists the report, the demographic transitions that the country is experiencing (the birth rate has diminished drastically since the seventies), permits improvement in life levels and, eventually, will translate into smaller migratory flows.

Mexico has become a destination point for migrants from other latitudes, mainly from Central America, creating novel social and political realities. Many victims of the violence that has characterized the country are migrants from other nations and Mexico’s southern border has become the focus of enormous scrutiny.

Regarding the future, the report is very clear in its insistence that an immigration reform in the U.S. could be the solution for persons who are already there, but that the success of the migratory issue will depend in immense measure on the actions that the Mexican government is willing to take. Given that a great proportion of migrants who enter the U.S. illegally are Mexicans or individuals who transit through Mexico, the report proposes a joint set of responsibilities that Mexico would be required to assume in order for the proposed reform to be approved as well as for the beginning of the construction of a new regional development scheme.

In particular, Mexico would have to advance seriously on two fronts: first, control of its border to the South with the purpose of the country’s becoming a trustworthy partner which radically reduces regional vulnerability to the access of undocumented and unwanted individuals. This is what nations such as Poland, Bulgaria and Romania in the European Union committed to and carried out with great success. Secondly, Mexico would have to commit to regulating migratory flows to the North. The latter would constitute a radical departure from Mexican tradition, in that it would imply that instead of de facto promoting and facilitating migration, the Mexican government would act as the guarantor of that only those who have obtained a U.S. work visa could transit the country.

The benefit of all this, as in the case in Europe, could be assessed by greater economic growth, growing regional competitiveness, further industrial integration, more exports and better living standards. In the end, there’s nothing like economic growth to ease political tensions.


**All available at http://www.migrationpolicy.org/