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Memo From Mexico | DOES EMIGRATION REALLY HELP MEXICO?
Previous Allan Wall pieces:
Does the mass immigration of Mexicans to the United States really help Mexico?
It's a valid question. After all, Mexican immigration is causing immense problems in the United States. If it were really helping Mexico, then maybe immigration enthusiasts could convince their countrymen of the joys of national sacrifice - that one nation could immolate itself for the good of another. But it's costing a fortune, reducing the middle class to political irrelevance, and even has the potential of breaking up the country. So - is it really helping Mexico?
Certainly, Mexican immigration to the U.S. helps Mexico's white elite to stay in power. Jorge Castañeda, now Fox's Foreign Minister, stated as much in his famed Atlantic Monthly article of July 1995. The white Mexican elite is determined to keep as many of their poorer, darker-skinned countrymen heading north. The emigration "safety valve" was Zedillo's policy, and now it's Fox's policy—the new president is just more aggressive about it.
In the U.S., Mexican immigration swells the ranks of the "Hispanic" ethnic class. That means more clout for professional Hispanic activists, as both parties seek to outbid each other in a race to see who can sacrifice more national unity and sovereignty. But is the empowerment of MALDEF and National Council of La Raza necessarily good for Mexico in general?
Even if Mexico winds up taking control of the Southwest would that necessarily be good for the Mexican nation as a whole? After all, they briefly had California before (1821-1847) and it didn't do them much good.
I would contend that mass Mexican immigration to the U.S. is, in the long run, an impediment to authentic progress in Mexico. It has infected Mexican society with a self-defeating mindset, which seeks to solve social problems by exporting, rather than developing, the Mexican people. It exercises a corrosive influence on Mexican society, distorts the economy and deceives the populace. It is, in short, an addiction, and like any addiction, requires ever-heavier dosages to keep getting high.
Many would justify mass Mexican immigration as a way to help Mexico's poor. Illegal aliens are lionized here in Mexico, glorified and defended by the government, the entertainment industry (through music, TV and cinema) and Mexican intellectuals. A vast social network exists on both sides of the border which facilitates illegal crossings, and then, job acquisition and housing in the U.S. Many Mexican emigrants do not even consider other options—as one remarked in an interview—"We're Mexicans, what else can we do?"
The real incentive is the money available, made possible by the huge wage disparity between the two nations. Since American wages are on average about 9 times higher than Mexican wages (and 30 times higher in agriculture!), even Mexicans who are already employed are tempted to go north to work.
A former co-worker of mine, for example, quit his full-time job in a school in which I was working, left his wife and two young daughters, and headed for the border. He was apprehended twice by the border patrol, but the third time was the charm. The last I heard, he was working in a certain northeastern state you've no doubt heard of.
This siren call of American wages, in addition to skewing the job market here in Mexico, exacerbates family disintegration, which is on the increase here in Mexico, immigration definitely being a factor. Husbands and fathers leave their families months on end, AIDS is spread, and family bonds are weakened. We're told that the illegal aliens are working to feed their families, but that's not always the case. Immigration can also serve as a way for men to evade family responsibilities. The ex-husband of another former co-worker of mine, for example, used immigration to the U.S. to avoid paying any child support. How many others do something similar?
Do the remittances sent back home by immigrants make all this moral devastation worthwhile? The total value of remittances has been estimated to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 to 11 billion dollars. The Mexican government admits that the remittances form the country's third-highest source of income, after petroleum and tourism. Some estimates actually put remittances in second place.
In 1998, then-independent senator Adolfo Aguilar Zinser correctly observed that "The government's economic policy is dependent on unlimited emigration to the United States." Aguilar Zinser was talking about the PRI government, which was defeated in 2000 by Fox. Now it's even worse. Fox has expanded the same policy and made it the centerpiece of bilateral relations. Candidate Fox criticized the PRI's use of the emigration safety valve and promised an economy which would provide all Mexicans a job in Mexico. But President Fox has made preservation and expansion of the safety valve his number one foreign policy priority. And Aguilar Zinser—well he's helping Fox do so, as his National Security Adviser!
But the fact that 6 to 11 billion dollars is flowing into Mexico just has to be helping people, hasn't it? Well, it does serve as a source of income for many families, and probably keeps a number of grocery stores afloat. But as a source of long-term job-creating investment, the effectiveness of remittances is more dubious. About 95% of the remittance money is spent on food and day-to-day supplies, not in meaningful investment which increases long-term job creation. A small percentage of the remittance money has been donated to local communities for paving projects and refurbishing churches, and a smaller percentage specifically targeted to investment, but most of it is eaten up in groceries.
In short, rather like welfare payments in the U.S., remittances have a real downside – they distort incentives.
In fact, since immigration begets more immigration, and America's nepotistic chain migration scheme allows immigrants to import their relatives, small rural towns in Mexico are depopulated by emigration to the U.S.A. The majority of the residents of a town called Casa Blanca, for example, have deserted it, most of them moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Or take the case of the village of Huacao, Michoacan, whose population has been reduced from 2,200 only a decade ago to 400 today. The devastation of these rural towns results in even more pressure for remaining inhabitants to emigrate.
Catholic priest Samuel Fernandez described the situation thusly: "Yes, they have raised their lives a bit economically, but it is a pity, the divided houses we have here. The people morally, psychologically, have many problems. The families lose control, they lose unity, they lose the sense of being families. Every year more people leave. Every year the towns are more and more alone."
So many towns in rural Mexico have been depopulated in this way that you have to ask if the cure is worse than the disease. It's rather like the Vietnamese village that had to be destroyed in order to be saved. Such small rural towns have been depositories of traditional Mexican culture, which is attractive to many people. But the disastrous socialism practiced by the 20th-century Mexican government has ruined village life economically, and the immigration safety valve looks to ruin it socially. As Mario Garcia, mayor of a small community in Zacatecas state has bemoaned, "People have one thing in mind, and that is to go to the United States."
This run-for-the-border mentality has skewed the Mexican economy in other ways. Now, there are actually complaints in Mexico about labor shortages in various regions of the country and sectors of the economy—including construction and agriculture (two magnets for illegal aliens in the United States, remember!). This phenomenon has two causes. One is the abandonment of the local labor force by those who emigrate. The other reason: some Mexicans who do stay refuse to work in Mexico even if employment is available!
Why? Because they find it more profitable to live off a relative's remittances from the U.S. than working for a Mexican salary! As Zacatecas farmer Pedro Chavez observes, "The people here can make more money by staying at home and waiting for a check from the United States, so many of them do not work. At least they do not want to work in Mexico." (Jobs Mexicans won't do?)
So how do local Mexican employers fill the labor shortages they complain about? Simple. They hire workers from even poorer parts of Mexico and Central America. And the whole cycle starts all over again!
This, then, is the result of the immigration system that purportedly helps Mexico. It weakens the Mexican family and the local community, considered by many to be Mexico's strong points. It actually impedes economic development, because the safety valve mentality has permeated the entire society, producing a "Why make things better? they can just emigrate" mentality.
Vicente Fox himself is trapped in this mentality. Fox still talks about improving Mexico's economy. But his priority seems to be increasing the emigration safety valve. George W. Bush encourages this kind of thinking by spouting such meaningless, pseudo-humanitarianism nonsense as "Family values don't stop at the Rio Grande". If Bush is really serious about helping Mexico, the first thing he should do is help Mexicans break their self-defeating addiction to the emigration safety valve. Possibly Steve Sailer's novel proposal ("A Marshall Plan For Mexico",) along with a polite no to Fox's laundry list of immigration demands, would be a good place to start.
Mexico is a country with vast economic potential. It has mineral wealth – it's the world's number one silver producer - a diverse agricultural base, a highly-educated upper class, and a small but rapidly-growing high-tech industry. Its cuisine is justly famous far beyond its borders, its musical and other cultural contributions are world-renowned. As a tourist destination, Mexico has it all—beautiful beach resorts, pre-Columbian and Spanish architecture and a wide variety of natural attractions.
Yet, due to a number of historical, legal and social factors, its economy still lags painfully behind ours. It's true that a prosperous Mexico would be in America's long-term interests, but her leaders' addiction to immigration as a resolution to the problem is self-defeating. There may be ways for the U.S. to help Mexico. But the present mass immigration disaster is not one of them.
Allan Wall is an American citizen who has lived and worked in Mexico since 1991. Presently employed as an English instructor, Allan has legal permission from the Mexican government to live and work in Mexico under the rubric of an FM-2 migration document. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his Frontpage.com articles are archived here. Allan Wall welcomes questions or comments (pro or con) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 11, 2001