Friday, April 28, 2006

Immigration - How the Mexican Government is Creating a Parasitic Economy and Neglecting its Poor

From Ash and Po:

The current immigration debate is very emotional and complicated for me.

As an attorney and former presidential appointee, I've taken oaths to uphold all U.S. laws, defend the Constitution, and protect the U.S. I never considered any of those mere words: each time I've taken such an oath, I've been awed by the responsibility I just accepted.

But, at the same time, my faith background has taught me that love and compassion are the most important things. That I am to be merciful, and do whatever I can to aid my fellow man. To respect all people -- to value our common humanity.

The immigration debate pits those two principles against each other, much like the Myers-Briggs Personality question, "Is it better to be just or merciful?" I am angered by the disdain for law. I'm very concerned about a rapid, dramatic transformation of American culture without regard to the nation's will. But I am personally acquainted with a couple hundred undocumented aliens, and there isn't one I could have the heart to ever say "Send him back."

So I don't have the ready answers, but I would like to change the conversation a little. Because solutions like a guest-worker program or a really big wall are just lousy band-aids. They won't do anything to actually change the immigration problem, because they do nothing to get at the root-causes for immigration.

The problem here is not the illegal immigrant. Nor is it the guy who hires him (unless he's paying slave wages). It's not the border patrol responsible for sending immigrants back. It's not even the evilly opportunistic coyotes or those idiotic Minutemen.

No, the real problem is the Mexican government.

Let me be clear -- it isn't the Mexican people. It's their government. And maybe Mexico's big corporations. The fact of the matter is that the Mexican Government simply cannot afford to stem the tide of migration. In fact, it's to their benefit to encourage it -- and that's exactly what they are doing.

Pushing its poor towards the United States seems to have become Mexico's primary social policy. There has always been a push-pull dynamic. The lure of the United States has been the pull.

But we haven't recognized how much the Mexican government is pushing. By encouraging mass migration (and just how they are doing that, I'll get to in a minute), the Powers That Be get rid of the poorest -- which is a three-fold victory. First, it eliminates the financial concern of how to care for them. Second, the people who would be the angriest about the government's inadequacies keep leaving the country -- the ones who would vote, protest, stage walk-outs, even literally revolt -- instead keep voting with their feet. Which in turn protects The Powers That Be.

And third, as a reward for watching entire communities empty out, they receive a huge influx of cash.

In 2000, Mexico received $7 billion in U.S. remittances -- money sent home to Mexico from its US residents. A figure large enough that President Vicente Fox talked about it during his inaugural address. And why wouldn't he? It's a staggering amount, right? Well, it no longer is a staggering amount. Because that figure has tripled since then. Last year -- Mexico received a reported $20 billion in remittances.

Name another industry that Mexico could successfully increase like that within just 5 years. 78% of Mexican migrants in the US send home money -- the average well-over $200 a month. One-fifth of the Mexican population -- over 20 million -- receive remittances from the US.

To put that $20 billion in perspective, and to acknowledge how vital it is to Mexico, consider that $20 billion is more than Mexico receives in foreign aid. $20 billion is more than it receives from international tourists coming each year to Mexico. $20 billion is more than it exports in agriculture each year. $20 billion is more than it exports in car parts. The only category of foreign income that exceeds remittances is oil.

In 5 Mexican states, remittances now equal more than 100% of local salaries. In one state, Michocan, it's 182%.

The President of the World Bank Paul Wolfowitz is in Mexico this very week, and just this Wednesday said that it was remittances that were primarily responsible for Mexico's decreasing rate of poverty.

But it's not just remittances. The poverty rate is also going down in Mexico because the poor are being pushed toward the border. If Mexico were sending its best and brightest, then the Mexican government might be worried about the brain drain. But it's largely the lower classes who are moving to the United States -- those with a few years of education, if that, and those with some skilled labor experience. There are some areas where so many of these skilled laborers have left, there aren't enough to do the required work in areas of Mexico. But that's just on a community-by-community basis. From the perspective of the Mexican government, there are -- quite literally -- millions more where these poor workers came from.

The migration rate is the highest from the areas with the poorest people. These are states that the World Bank still says are receiving the least funding, and which have the most roadblocks to getting help in there. If the US emigrants and their children came home to one particular Mexican state, its population would literally double overnight.

Since year 2000, the proportion of Mexicans extremely poor has fallen from 24% to 17%, according to the World Bank. Is this the result of some miraculously beneficial Mexican welfare program? Hardly. Is it the result of a booming Mexican economy? Not at all. It's that many of the poor suddenly woke up in the U.S. The other poor left behind are receiving income from the U.S. - making them no longer poor. (Meanwhile, the proportion of Americans living under our poverty level has not gone down at all.)

Women are having trouble marrying, because there are so few men left some in of the poorest states. And a quarter of the migrant men in the US have a wife back home. Fewer marriages, later marriages, and separated spouses -- those all mean fewer kids -- and an even smaller poor population in the future.

Can you imagine the uproar in the United States if our national social policy for poor people was to encourage them to leave the country and go live elsewhere?

The Mexican government denies it is encouraging people to leave. But the reality is that created a culture and environment that absolutely encourages emigration. Consider the following programs instituted by the Mexican Government:

First, Mexico didn't really acknowledge its emigres -- not until 1990. But then the government began formal programs to aid citizens abroad -- and encourage more of them to go. One of these, the Program for Mexican Communities Living Abroad, established programs where Mexicans can send remittances to local communities via Mexican consultate offices and cultural centers throughout the U.S.

Since President Vicente Fox took office in 2000, the government has further increased these programs. In 2001, Fox established a Presidential Office for Mexicans Abroad, to serve as tie between emigrants and their Mexican communities of origin. His administration spearheaded legislation that allows Mexicans who live in the U.S. to have bank accounts in Mexico -- and they can keep the money in these accounts in dollars, not pesos -- and he's established other means to help the flow of remittances.

He's also behind allowing emigres to have dual nationality -- which means that they are eligible for some economic programs, but they can't vote in a Mexican election. In other words, the government still wants the emigrants' cash and connections, but it ensures that these millions can't have a voice in their national politics.

The Mexican government has started a program known as "3x1" -- for every $1 sent from a Mexican emigrant club or association for a development project, the Mexican Government will kick in $3.

Mexico has no express laws prohibiting human trafficking -- not across the border -- not even to protect as many 16,000 children a year in Mexico who are kidnapped or sold for sexual exploitation. Instead, Mexico says that its citizens have a free right to travel in their country that they don't want to abridge.

In December 2004, the Mexican Government began distributing 1.5 million comic books with instructions on how to safely cross the border. The books included suggested routes for coyotes, and legal advice on what to do if the US border patrol arrests a migrant, so that he will not immediately be returned to Mexico, but instead to initiate legal proceedings. The Mexican government explained that this was a necessary safety measure because people are dying during border crossings. The number of those who died crossing the border last year was over 400. That's tragic -- but 400+ out of almost 500,000 in a year -- warrants 1.5 million copies? That's enough for three copies for every US-bound migrant.

Inspired by the federal government's book, in 2005, the Mexican state of Yucatan distributed a book and a DVD about how to safely cross the border. But they don't historically have enough migrants moving North to have a safety problem. What they do have, however, is a doubling of remittances from 2001 to 2004 -- up to $9 million for a state of with a population of 1.7 million. And what they also now have is a government ceremony to celebrate migrants, on its newly created "Day of the Yucatan Migrant."

In December 2005, the Mexican Government agency announced that it was beginning a publicity campaign to make sure that its US-residing citizens knew they were entitled to a legal mininum wage. In the U.S., minimum wage is $5.15. In areas of Mexico, it's about $2. The campaign also will stress that Mexican US residents should not commit or allow domestic violence. Laudable -- but it's awfully interesting that they'd have such a plan here. Domestic violence occurs in about one out of every three homes in Mexico; at least 80% of women in Mexico City are sexually-harassed in the workplace.

That same month, the government started a special program that would enable US-residing residents to obtain special mortgages for Mexican property.

In poorer areas of Mexico, there are reports of officials telling citizens, in effect, "Don't ask us for aid and don't apply to our social programs. You should smuggle your family across the border."

In January 2006, a Mexican Government agency announced that it was distributing over 70,000 free maps of the border area, diagramming routes and locating water stations, to help migrants. (US uproar stopped them from being distributed.)

And Fox himself has described the migrants as "heroes."

What has been the result of all these programs? As Po wrote in his post yesterday, the flow of people north has exploded. In the 1970s, 120,000 people came north every year. In the 1980s, 200,000 came every year. In the 1990s, 300,000. Today, 485,000 Mexican citizens are coming into the United States this year.

By now you might be wondering, "Well, what's wrong with this, if it's working? If the United States benefits from cheap labor, and the Mexican poverty level is falling, isn't that a good thing?"

Well, think of Mexico as your talented and bright cousin who can't seem to hold down a job or take care of himself. He's family, and you believe in him. So you want to help him out. You send him a few thousand dollars to get an apartment, get a car, get some decent clothes, and get a job. You want him up on his feet sustaining himself. You don't want him to just spend the money away and remain unemployed.

There is no sign that the Mexican economy has been kickstarted by the $100 billion in remittances that have poured in since 2000. There is every sign that Mexicans are living off the remittances. It's being spent, not invested. Many Mexicans have quit their jobs because they can't earn anywhere near the amount of money they get sent each month. Were the flow of cash to stop tomorrow, the Mexican economy would collapse. One Mexican academic has determined that of the 16 Mexican states that have the highest migration rates, not one has made economic development a priority. There is still a culture of corruption that makes it incredibly hard to start a business in Mexico.

Any intertwined relationship between two entities can be categorized as symbiotic or parasitic. Symbiotic is when both benefit and get stronger from the relationship. Mexican academics are calling their country's relationship to the United States "parasitic" - they insist it is not making Mexico stronger, just making Mexico more dependent.

When President Fox calls the emigrants "heroes," he is taking advantage of their hard labor. He shouldn't celebrate this migration. It should be considered a tragedy that the Mexican government has not done more to end corruption, enable their economy, and care for its citizens.


Anonymous Mike G. said...

After reading this I can only think: Are U.S. sanctions against Mexico in the works? If not, why not?

2:36 AM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

From what I've seen, there are bilateral commissions that basically accept the Mexican government's argument that migration is a "shared responsibility" -- so the closest I've seen is that we complain when we don't like something. And a sheriff in Texas is sending a bill to Vicente Fox for the cost of illegal immigrants in prison.

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What the Mexican government has done is indeed a tragedy.

But what the U.S. government has done -- or not done, as the case may be -- is downright despicable.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Alyssa Stafford said...

interesting that Mexico spends money on supporting migration to America but not in just helping the people in poverty.

I see that you created links so some sources, but some of the facts and figures are pretty good for a conversation I'm going to fire up again on some Mexican friends I have. I want their opinion on all of this, but do you have any hard proof that all of those figures are correct? It would be really helpful.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Po Bronson said...

Well, to show you all the sources would take 3,000 words. If we make a post on a single fact, we describe all our sources in the article. But with an article like this its just too much clutter. So as to whether our stats are real, I can only say that the article was vetted by Time fact checkers and editors, so they're as real and as accurate as you trust me, and Ashley, and Time, to not mislead people. In other words, I stand by their accuracy, and since the article was published, nobody has refuted the underlying facts.

3:57 PM  

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