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February 1997, Volume 4, Number 2

Mexico: Immigration and Poverty

The Mexican government suspended five immigration agents involved in the killing of a Guatemalan immigrant January 21, 1997 at a train station in Las Salinas, Oaxaca during a raid by immigration agents in which 60 undocumented aliens were detained. According to the Interior Secretariat (Gobernacion), about 210,000 illegal aliens have been detained in Mexico during the first two years of the Zedillo Administration.

In April 1996, President Ernesto Zedillo visited the northwestern border city of Tijuana where he called for more humane treatment of illegal aliens in general, including US treatment of Mexicans and Mexican treatment of Central Americans.

The Public Policy Institute of California in January released a study that concluded that Mexican men migrating to the US without their families from rural communities in west central states such as Jalisco tend to avoid using US welfare benefits and eventually return to Mexico. Using data from the Mexican Migration Project, which collected data on migration from 40 Mexican communities with a long tradition of sending migrants to the US, the study concluded that over 90 percent of the unauthorized men came to the US without children and 80 percent returned to Mexico within 10 years.

One-third of the Mexican men in the sample were farm workers in the US and 86 percent of them returned to Mexico within five years.

Mexican Migration Project have been used in many empirical studies of Mexico-US migration, sometimes without sufficient emphasis on the fact that they are collected from emigration communities in which over 80 percent of the men migrate to the US--legally or illegally--by age 40, and have been migrating in large numbers to the US since the 1940s. Generalizations based on data from the Mexican Migration Project are useful in understanding an important component of Mexico-US migration, but it should be emphasized that they do not refer to "typical" Mexican communities, nor to new migrant sending areas, including Oaxaca.

An estimated 1,000 Mexicans arrive in Mexico City every day, most coming from rural areas in the poorest states of Guerrero (11 percent poor), Oaxaca (43 percent poor), and Chiapas (40 percent poor). Many of Mexico's poor residents are members of one of the 56 ethnic groups that comprise Mexico's 10 million "indigenous people."

In Mexico, about 23 percent of residents are considered poor. A 1996 study by Mexico's National Autonomous University reported that 50 percent of all Mexicans were considered "extremely poor," up from 31 percent in 1993. In Central America, about 60 percent of residents are considered poor.

A Washington Post account of Mexico's recent economic development argues that the country has two almost separate economies, divided by geography, technology and ethnicity. Only northern manufacturing centers benefiting from the globalization exemplified by NAFTA.

Some observers say that Mexico illustrates the problems that arise when a developing nation attempts enters the global marketplace without economic or social policies tailored to handle the economic and social pressures created by a huge influx of unstable foreign capital.

In January, 1997, Mexico repaid the final $3.5 billion of its $13.5 billion loan from the United States.

Greyhound in January began to offer bus service between Los Angeles and Ciudad Obregon, a Mexico city 700 miles southeast of Tijuana and 300 miles south of Tuscon. There are 25 to 30 million bus trips of more than 100 miles each year in the US compared with 250 million bus trips in Mexico.

Mercosur -- a Spanish contraction of Common Market of the South--is a four-nation regional grouping of 240 million people with an annual GDP of $1 trillion.


Molly Moore, "3 Years After Mexico Embraced Free Trade, Rural Poor Still Flock to Capital," Washington Post, December 31, 1996.