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October 2019, Volume 25, Number 4

Canada, Mexico

Canada has one of the world's highest rates of immigration and one of the largest shares of guest workers in its labor force, including foreign students who may work 20 hours a week while studying and work full time during school breaks. Canada admitted 400,000 foreign students in 2018.

Canada has an international mobility program akin to other countries' working holiday-maker programs that permits foreigners to work for two years in Canada. Some 250,000 international mobility migrants were admitted in 2018.

Canada has two programs to admit foreign farm workers: the SAWP and Low-Skill pilot, which allows foreign workers to work in Canada for two years before returning to their countries of origin for a year. Returned Low-Skill pilot workers can return to Canada for another two years if requested by an employer.

The Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council says that Canada has 60,000 too few workers to fill year-round jobs on farms and in farm-related industries, and that the farm labor shortage will double by 2030. The Agri-Food Immigration Pilot Project announced in July 2019 will allow temporary foreign workers to apply for permanent residency after a year of employment in Canada. The program is expected to be used primarily by the meatpacking and mushroom industries.

Canadians go to the polls October 21, 2019; two-thirds of the votes will be cast in Ontario (14.5 million population) and Quebec (8.4 million).

The governing Liberal Party of PM Justin Trudeau was hurt by the SNC-Lavalin affair in February-March 2019, when recordings revealed that Trudeau's chief of staff pressured the Attorney General not to prosecute the SNC-Lavalin for bribing Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011. She refused and was fired.

If SNC-Lavalin is convicted of criminal conduct, it could be barred from obtaining Canadian government contracts; the fine sought by Trudeau would have allowed SNC-Lavalin to continue to win government contracts. SNC-Lavalin has 3,600 employees in Montreal and another 5,400 elsewhere in Canada, and won prominence by building hydroelectric plants in northern Quebec and Montreal's Olympic Stadium.

Trudeau in September 2019 was discovered to have worn black and brown face on several occasions in the 1990s and 2001, casting doubt on his reputation as a champion of ethnic diversity and multiculturalism. Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, who is also a US citizen, promised to reduce the federal budget deficit, lower barriers to inter-provincial trade, and eliminate Trudeau's federal carbon tax. Over a million Canadian citizens are also US citizens.

The New Democratic Party is led by Jagmeet Singh, a turban-wearing Sikh born in Toronto who has moved the NDP to the left of the Liberals by promising to do more to slow climate change and to expand health care. There are about 500,000 Sikhs in Canada, and their political representatives have struggled to reduce discrimination against Sikhs and other minorities, many of whom are immigrants. About 20 percent of Canadian residents were born abroad, and many vote for Liberals because the Conservatives are perceived to be anti-immigrant.

The Canadian economy in summer 2019 grew at twice the two percent US rate to over $2 trillion, fueled by rising exports to China to substitute for US exports that were slowed or stopped by tariffs. Quebec is the fastest-growing province, and has 120,000 jobs that have been vacant at least four months. Quebec will receive C$25 billion in equalization payments in 2019-20.

Canada has about 11,000 dairy farms, half in Quebec. They are protected by a supply management program that limits imports to prop up prices for milk and cheese (eggs and poultry are also protected). The government is compensating dairy, egg and poultry farmers for losses they may suffer as a result of free-trade deals.

Canada is getting more asylum seekers who transit the US. A favorite crossing point is 30 minutes north of Plattsburgh, New York at Roxham Road, where 50,000 asylum seekers entered Hemmingford, Quebec illegally between 2017 and 2019. Canada and the US have had a safe-third country agreement since 2004, which means that foreigners who enter Canada legally can be returned to the US to apply for asylum there. However, foreigners who arrive in Canada illegally can apply for asylum in Canada.

In 2017, some 7,000 Haitians and Nigerians entered Canada illegally via Roxham Road; in 2019, many of those arriving are from Venezuela and Colombia. Of those who have been processed in Canada, over 55 percent were recognized as refugees and allowed to settle in Canada.

Mexico. There are 32 million Mexican-origin US residents, including 12 million who were born in Mexico, 10 million with at least one parent born in Mexico, and 10 million with at least one grandparent born in Mexico. Half of the 12 million Mexican-born US residents are unauthorized. Over 60 percent of the 120 million residents of Mexico say they have a relative in the US.

The Mexican government has opened 50 consulates in the US, the most of any country in another country. During the 1990s and 2000s, Mexican leaders advocated on behalf of unauthorized Mexicans, opposing California's Prop 187 in 1994 and Arizona's SB 1070 in 2010 and supporting earned legalization programs that were included in comprehensive immigration reform bills approved by the Senate in 2006 and 2013.

Mexico is now a net immigration area, receiving more returning Mexicans and Central Americans than Mexicans who emigrate. As with Turkey, the government has been slow to shift its focus from protecting citizens abroad to dealing with foreigners inside its borders.

The US Migrant Protection Protocol has since December 20, 2018 required Spanish-speaking foreigners who apply for asylum at ports of entry to return to Mexico to wait for their hearings before US immigration judges. In the first half of 2019, about 5,000 foreigners a month applied and were returned to Mexican border cities such as Tijuana, Mexicali and Ciudad Juarez. Most of the 40,000 asylum applicants who have been returned to Mexico live in migrant shelters while waiting for their US hearings.

Advocates complain that asylum applicants who are returned to Mexican border cities do not have reliable addresses to receive notification of their US court dates. So far, very few asylum applicants who wait in Mexico for their hearings have won asylum in the US. The IOM offers free transportation to their countries to migrants who have applied for asylum in the US but are waiting in US border cities.

AMLO. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) wants to put the poor at the center of Mexico's economic agenda, using cutbacks in some programs to increase spending on pensions and to provide jobs for young unemployed people. The salaries of top government officials have been reduced to no more than the $5,600 a month paid to AMLO, and private health insurance for top government officials has been eliminated, leading to resignations.

AMLO, who says that Mexico cannot have "a rich government in a poor country," cancelled a $13 billion airport for Mexico City that was a third complete. AMLO wants Pemex to build an $8 billion refinery; three private firms said they needed more money for the project. AMLO promised to end corruption, but the sale of fertilizer maker Grupo Fertina to Pemex at an inflated price benefited a rich AMLO supporter, the owner of Banco Azteca and Grupo Elektra.

Mexico's central government has a $300 billion-a-year budget. The federal government collects the lowest taxes relative to GDP among OECD countries, prompting critics to say that Mexico can't be a "rich country without a functioning government."

Mexico's auto industry continues to expand, contributing 21 percent to manufacturing GDP and surpassing the food industry's share of GDP, which is 20 percent. Chemical and basic metals contribute six percent to GDP. Mexico exported 3.5 million cars and light trucks in 2018 worth $142 billion. Auto-related imports were $59 billion, leaving a surplus of $83 billion.

The Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) reported that Mexico had a net loss of 14,000 jobs in June 2019, leaving 20.4 million private sector workers registered with the country's comprehensive social security system. Some 991,300 employers registered their employees with IMSS; these IMSS-covered workers had an average base wage of 377 pesos a day ($20) in 2019.

On September 26, 2014, some 43 students who commandeered buses in Iguala, Guerrero to take them to Mexico City disappeared after being arrested by local police at the direction of the mayor, a case that has become a symbol of Mexico's failure to prevent and solve crimes.

Economic growth is slowing in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and other major Latin American countries. There are many reasons for slower growth, including poor schooling systems, widespread informal employment and low productivity growth, and high crime and inequality. Mexico ranks last among OECD countries in student achievement. AMLO reversed a hard-fought decision to hire teachers based on merit rather than ties to teachers' unions.

Michoacan produces over 80 percent of Mexico's avocados. Exports of $2.4 billion in 2018 mean that avocados are considered "green?gold." Four drug cartels are charging avocado producers monthly protection payments, calculated on a per hectare or per kilogram exported basis: Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG), the Nueva Familia?Michoacana, the Tepalcatepec Cartel and the Zicuir?n?Cartel. The price of opium used to make heroin has dropped with the rise of synthetic opioids, pushing the cartels to seek other sources of income.

Central America. Remittances were $4.8 billion to Honduras, $5.4 billion to El Salvador and $9.5 billion to Guatemala in 2018.

Joyabaj, Guatemala a city of 100,000, is shrinking as residents leave for the US. Guatemala has 17 million residents. Some 15,000 Guatemalans were apprehended just inside the US in FY07, compared to 236,000 in the first nine months of FY19.

There are several reasons why residents of Joyabaj and other Guatemalan cities are moving to the US. First, a US federal judge in 2015 interpreted the 1997 Flores agreement to make it easier for asylum seekers with children to remain in the US while their applications are pending. Second, drought in Guatemala shrank corn and bean harvests. Third, Trump's promise to build a wall on the Mexico-US border has persuaded many migrants to come to the US before a wall makes crossing the border more difficult.

Coyotes advertise "The American Dream" and urge people to go to the US now with their children in order to be released to US relatives to wait for their asylum hearings. Asylum applicants can work legally for several years and their children can go to US schools. US wages of $10 or more an hour are attractive to workers who would otherwise earn $5 a day.

President Trump threatened to impose tariffs or levy fees on US remittances to Guatemala in July 2019 if the Guatemalan government did not do more to discourage transit and outmigration. Guatemala's constitutional court in July 2019 ruled that the government could not sign a safe third-country agreement with the US, which would have required Central Americans passing through to apply for asylum in Guatemala.

Nonetheless, the outgoing Guatemalan government on July 26, 2019 signed a safe third-country agreement with the US, offering asylum to foreigners transiting Guatemala to the US. This means that the US will return Hondurans and Salvadorans who seek asylum in the US to Guatemala. The leading presidential candidates who take office in January 2020 have criticized the safe third-country agreement.

Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello resigned in July 2019 after private chats were released showing that Rossello disparaged Puerto Ricans. Rossello, son of a former Puerto Rico governor, was unable to revive the economy as promised after being elected in 2016, and led a government that responded poorly to Hurricane Maria in September 2017; several members of his cabinet were charged with corruption. Rossello's New Progressive Party supports Puerto Rican statehood.

Puerto Rico has $130 billion in debt ($75 billion) and unfunded pension debt ($55 billion). Its electricity monopoly Prepa generates electricity from imported oil and is mired in debt and political patronage. Puerto Rico has an 8.5 percent unemployment rate.