US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Migrants thinking twice about going North

Father Tom Joyce CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Migrants Thinking Twice About Going North

Over the last few years the number of migrants illegally crossing from Mexico to the U.S. has drastically declined. Most observers credit the Great Recession; it did dry up construction jobs. The get-tough crowd says it’s the beefed up border security and the anti-immigrant state legislation. (Probably the best indicator of the decline is the drastic reduction in apprehensions of those trying to enter.) A few note that it’s more dangerous to cross the border, especially since the drug cartels have branched into people smuggling. Then there is the fear and grind of living in the shadows. All of these disincentives play a part in the decline of unauthorized crossings. Still, the decline of new migrants has cut the numbers of undocumented only slightly.

These factors, however, are not the only ones. Most of the migration north has “push” and “pull” factors. The pull is the enticements for poor Mexican campesinos to go north—jobs, money to send back home, the good life. There has always been a temporary factor in unauthorized migration—farm workers that come up to make a few bucks to buy more land, pay for an extension on the house, or send the kids to school.

The one factor that is often overlooked is that Mexico is changing. Life is better on the old homestead; to brave a dangerous border crossing and to find work in a depressed economy is not worth the few extra dollars. The cost of crossing has also grown exponentially: the price of a cayote, being in the hands of drug smugglers, crossing points over the Arizona dessert. Those who have just returned to Mexico have tales of woe and are discouraging others to try to cross. 

While the incentives to migrate have declined because of the harshness of the trip, the New York Times reports the push factors in Mexico are also declining. The big wave of unauthorized entries roughly coincide with a Mexican baby boom in the 1970s and 1980s, a moment the nation’s economy was stagnant. A large pool of young, unskilled, poorly educated youth faced few obstacles going North. Their grandfathers and fathers had already traveled north for temporary farm and railroad work. But this time many of them like life up north and saw few, real long-term prospects at home. Now that Mexico’s economy is improving there are more jobs, women are having few babies and education doesn’t end after the sixth grade. Things are better at home and the stories about the North are scary. While Americans get a media diet of drug war and mass murder in Mexico, the reality is that there have been many changes that encourage youth to stay home. And they are.

The Times also points out that it’s easier to get into the country legally from Mexico. This is due in large measure to a new consular policy in giving out visas. Before, asking for tourist visa would mean having to show the necessary funds to indicate a return home. Now it’s easier to come to the country, even though the visa does not entitle one to work. So far they have been returning. The consulate has also moved family reunion along more quickly. It’s still difficult to get a brother or sister into the country, but it's getting better. This, of course, frightens the Nativists. 

Unauthorized entry continues still. It’s getting more dangerous for those coming, yet most that do come still make in. Any comprehensive immigration reform itself will not totally eliminate unauthorized entry because there are still many poor in Mexico and Central America. As I mentioned in a previous post, an increasing number are Amerindians. But as Mexico prospers more youth will seek their fortunes at home.