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January 2002, Volume 9, Number 1

Mexico: More Migration, Remittances

Mexico's National Population Council released a report in December 2001 that concluded: "Migration between Mexico and the United States is a permanent, structural phenomenon. It is built on real factors, ranging from geography, economic inequality and integration, and the intense relationship between the two countries, that make it inevitable."

The report concluded that 400,000 Mexicans a year would migrate to the US through 2030 if Mexican economic growth averaged five percent a year, and that 500,000 Mexicans a year would migrate if economic growth averaged 1.5 percent a year. Under these scenarios, the Mexican-born US population would be 18.3 million in 2030, up from the current 8.3 million. The report noted that 1.25 million Mexican households received remittances in 2000, an average of $3,000 to $4,000 a year.

In 2001, the Fox administration projected that 1.2 million additional jobs would be created, enough to employ all new entrants to the Mexican labor force. Instead, some 500,000 jobs were lost, including 200,000 in border-area maquiladoras. Some closed maquiladoras are not expected to reopen because maquiladora wages--$2 or more an hour, including benefits and government taxes, are too high. According to Ciemex-WEFA, Mexican maquiladoras pay $2 an hour, compared to $1.59 in El Salvador, $1.53 in Dominican Republic, and $0.43 in China. Fox said: "The deceleration in the economy has affected the border more than any other part of the country."

Between 1993 and 1997, the share of Mexicans who were crossing the Mexico-US border for the first time rose from 30 percent in 1993-97, to 53 percent of crossers in 2000. The percentage of legal crossers fell from 50 percent to 38 percent.

Many Mexicans in the US made their annual return trip to their home places for Christmas. There was a lot of speculation about how many Mexicans in the US would return to Mexico for Christmas in 2001. Some were reported to be going because they considered Mexico to be safer from terrorism than the US, and thought they might not return in 2002 because of terrorism fears and US unemployment. Others reportedly did not go because they feared that stepped-up enforcement would make it harder to re-enter the US illegally after the holidays.

President Fox visited the border on December 18, 2001 to welcome home the migrants he has called "heroes," and to remind Mexican police not to demand bribes from returning migrants. Cartoons in newspapers depict Mexicans carrying bundles of cash from the United States, and running from the Mexican highway police to their home towns. The Paisano Program, established in 1989, provides a mechanism for returning migrants to complain about mistreatment from Mexican authorities.

President Fox has stepped up calls for a Mexico-US migration agreement that would legalize many of the estimated three to four million unauthorized Mexicans in the US. Before September 11, Fox said he hoped there could be agreement before the end of 2001; now he is saying that agreement should be reached before summer 2002. Fox argues that legalization will make it harder for terrorists to hide: "Migration is not a problem. It's an opportunity that we must take advantage of…Mexico will not be a residence for terrorists, nor a place of transit for terrorists, nor a place for terrorists to enter the United States."

Remittances. In November, it was reported that remittances to Mexico from migrants abroad in 2001 were on track to surpass 2000 levels- some $6.7 billion was sent home in the first nine months of 2001, compared to $6.3 billion received in 2000. The average single remittance is $300, with most migrants sending home money once or twice a month.

The Inter-American Development Bank, however, released the results of a poll of 1,000 Latin American immigrants in the US in December 2001 that found seven percent had lost their jobs since September 11, and 26 percent had had their hours of work reduced. Fifty-six percent said they had reduced their remittances. Among those surveyed, 70 percent had sent money, and 80 percent of those remitting used electronic or bank transfers.

Mexico has several minimum wages. On January 1, 2002, the lowest minimum wage will be $4.20 a day, the middle minimum wage will be $4.40 a day, and the highest minimum wage will be $4.60 a day. About eight million Mexican workers receive one of these minimum wages. Mexico's Congress approved $7.5 billion in new taxes December 31, 2001, an effort to reduce the government's dependence on oil exports.

Mexico's population quadrupled between 1950 and 2000, from 25 million to 100 million. Mexico lost an average 2.8 million acres of forest land a year between 1993 and 2000, a loss twice as fast as previously estimated- about 40 percent of Mexico's trees were felled since 1960, and few were replanted. Deforestation is fastest in Brazil, followed by Mexico and Indonesia. In many cases, poor Mexicans invade land and settle, sometimes with the urging of local political bosses, including in parks and protected forests; they then threaten violence if authorities try to remove them without compensation.

Sugar production employs about two million Mexicans, and is very inefficient. In September 2001, the government expropriated 27 of 60 sugar mills in order to maintain employment in the industry.

Mary Jordan, "Christmas cheer from across the border," Washington Post, December 18, 2001. Ken Ellingwood, "Easing the bottleneck at the border," Los Angles Times, December 14, 2001. Mark Stevenson, "Report: Mexican migration to U.S. will continue," AP, December 5, 2001. Andrea Mandel-Campbell, "Mexico's decline in emigration presents Fox with dilemma," Financial Times, December 5, 2001. Kevin Hall, "Fox's vision still a blur to critics," Miami Herald, December 1, 2001.