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Startling statistics about Mexican immigration


For immediate release:

Thursday, August 16, 2001


01.13

STARTLING STATISTICS ABOUT MEXICAN IMMIGRATION

· Hypocrisy rules the roost when it comes to U.S. immigration policy

· Mexicans make up nine of every 11 new arrivals, who together helped comprise the enormous immigration wave of the 1990s; all told, according to one expert, they represent the largest number of immigrants arriving here from a single country in U.S. history

· Eight percent of all Mexicans alive today live in the U.S., with millions more likely to come regardless of an unlikely all-out effort to staunch the flow

· Mexican immigrants are now better educated, more urban, and more likely to work in commerce than in agriculture

· Mexicans are fanning out to all parts of the U.S.

· Enormous economic disparity continues to exist between the two nations, with the average hourly wage for manual labor in the U.S. equal to a day's wage in Mexico

· Bush and Fox must search for concrete reforms to immigration woes and not just call for cosmetic remedies

· Unrestrained immigration is not necessarily a win-win situation

As President George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox ponder various strategies for immigration reform in anticipation of the latter’s September 5th visit to Washington, an urgent and thorough examination of U.S.-Mexican immigration practices will inevitably occur, now that the issue has come in for greater scrutiny. Statistics from the U.S.’s 2000 Census and a host of other sources highlight the implications of the enormous increases in Mexican immigration, per force producing an entirely unforeseen relationship of growing intimacy between the two countries and their peoples. Immigration into the U.S., especially of Mexicans, has skyrocketed during the 1990s, changing old stereotypes about the types of immigrants that arrive and where they arrive to, as well as their influence on the way the U.S. functions. Only by attempting to reform the economic pressures that actually motivate people to illegally immigrate, rather than just cosmetically remedying the byproducts of an unjust system through a blanket amnesty or the semi-militarization of the border, will a more humane and equable form of cooperation develop between Mexico and the U.S.

Current U.S. immigration law has no backers

Today, the U.S. immigration policy of interdiction has no friends, with U.S. labor and industry both favoring stepped up immigration for their own self interests, as do the Democrats and Republicans, each seeking to maximize the political support coming from the rapidly rising number of Latino voters. On top of this, the general estimate of three to five million Mexicans now illegally in the country will encourage an additional number of their fellow countrymen to come in to join them, knowing full well that at sometime in the future, the U.S. political system will be pressured to come up with another amnesty.

The 1990s marked an explosion of immigration with the arrival of 13.3 million immigrants from around the world, accounting for almost half of the nation’s total immigrant population of 30.5 million. The immigrant population now accounts for an unprecedented 11 percent of the U.S.’s total population of 273.4 million. Of the recent arrivals, the largest numbers came from Mexico, Central America and Asia, with the most defining characteristic of the new surge of immigration being the overwhelming percentage of Latinos. The population of Latinos, including both immigrants and U.S. citizens of Latino heritage, grew by 58 percent over the 1990s to reach 35 million, rivaling non-Latino African-Americans as the nation’s largest minority group. Politicians across the U.S. are suddenly aware of the potential political power of the Latino constituency.

Latinos, the majority of whom are Mexican, today have the highest labor force participation rate in the U.S., according to a two-year study released last year by the National Council of La Raza. Such economic activity by Latinos, as well as the augmentation of immigration flows from Latin America, significantly correlates with the booming economic prosperity experienced by the U.S. during the 1990s. William H. Frey, a demographer with the University of Michigan, recently noted that the states where the largest number of immigrants have arrived, tended to benefit most from the decade’s economic expansion.

Tremendous upsurge in Mexican immigration and the “Latinization” of the U.S. Of all the immigrant groups that arrived during the 1990s, the overwhelming majority came from Mexico. Mexicans comprise nine of the 11 million new arrivals that came during the 1990s. As noted by Jeff Passel, a demographer with the Urban Institute in Washington, they also marked the largest number of immigrants that the U.S. has ever absorbed from any one single country.

According to a survey done by the Census Bureau for 2000, a staggering 29 percent, or 8.8 million, of the foreign born population in the U.S. came from Mexico. While much debate focuses on the enormous number of Mexicans living in the U.S. and their impact upon this country’s economy and way of life, much less research has been done concerning the impact of large-scale emigration on Mexico. With nearly eight percent of all Mexicans alive today now living in the U.S., such emigration has produced a broad effect upon Mexico and its economy. On the other hand, during the 1990s, Mexican migrants in the U.S. repatriated more than $45 billion to their home country.

The new face of Mexican immigrants

While Mexicans have had a long tradition of migratory and seasonal work in the U.S., the numbers of migrants, and their characteristics, have been drastically transformed. Mexicans traditionally have immigrated to the southwest region of the U.S., as well as to Florida, typically contributing significantly to the agricultural sector of such states as California, Florida, and Texas. Agriculture continues to employ large numbers of the migrants, since an estimated 50-80 percent of all farm workers in the U.S. are illegal, and of those, most are believed to be Mexicans.

However, only one in ten of the 21 million Mexicans and Mexican-Americans now currently living in the U.S. work in the agricultural sector, indicating that they are rapidly shifting into other occupations. One of the largest employers of Mexicans is the service sector, where an estimated 85 percent of all them work. Mexicans also are beginning to enter the commercial sector in large numbers. According to a report produced by Mexico's National Population Council, U.S. bound immigrants today are better educated, more urban, and more likely to work in commerce than in agriculture. With the U.S. being able to attract better-educated Mexicans with the allure of more high-level job opportunities and better wages, the characteristics of Mexicans working in the U.S. are beginning to be altered. More than half of all Mexicans who now enter into the U.S. have high school diplomas or university degrees, a fact that also signifies a considerable drain of talent and intellect from Mexico.

New destinations for Mexican immigrants

While certain characteristics remain regarding the profile of newly arrived immigrants, others are changing significantly. For instance, California continues to absorb more temporary workers than any other state, with an estimated 28 percent of them residing there. California also houses two-thirds of all Mexican-Americans and Mexican nationals residing permanently in the U.S. However, because of increased enforcement by the U.S. Border Patrol in the state as well as the demand for Mexican workers in other areas, undocumented workers are spreading out across the U.S. landscape. Mexican immigrants are settling in states other than the traditional newcomer depots: California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas. Recently, the Census Bureau reported that the percentage of immigrants living outside those conventional destination points grew by 50 percent during the 1990's, increasing the overall total in this category from 10 percent to 15 percent. Today’s Mexican immigrants are more apt to stay longer and to more readily establish permanent U.S. residency than was the case with previous generations.

Another defining characteristic of Mexican immigration that distinguishes this group from immigrants elsewhere is the huge percentage of those entering the country illegally. Due in large part to the more than 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border and the legendary inefficiency of the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS), Mexicans comprise about half of the six to nine million illegal immigrants residing in the U.S. According to a survey by the INS, there are currently about seven million illegals in the U.S., five million of whom entered during the 1990s.

While the government continues to invest large sums in border enforcement, producing more than one million arrests of would-be Mexican emigrants last year alone, large numbers still manage to evade the restraints and successfully enter the country illegally. In 1994, the Urban Institute declared that four out of every ten undocumented Mexicans who attempted to cross the border succeeded. According to MSNBC, a 2000 Census Bureau survey reported that about 78 percent of the foreign born population of Mexican heritage were not U.S. citizens, compared with half of those from Asia and 45 percent of the European born.

The future of Mexican immigration

In a recent hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), one of the principle architects of a 1996 law aimed at curbing illegal immigration, stated, "The difference between now and the turn of the 20th century is that there is no foreseeable slowdown in immigration." The truth of Smith's statements ring clear when one considers statistics presented in an August 9th Washington Post article that found that in Mexico more than 40 percent of the population lives in poverty. The article also points out that the hourly wage for manual labor in the U.S. is equivalent to a day's wage in Mexico.

In considering reforms to immigration policy, Presidents Bush and Fox will need to carefully study the complexity of the situation as well as immigration trends. Both presidents must also clearly analyze the enormous economic inequalities between the two countries and the way in which NAFTA is affecting the ties between economic integration and immigration activity.

COHA Group on Immigration Studies, Jessica Marcy, lead researcher

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-partisan and tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the floor of the Senate as being “one of the nation’s most respected bodies of scholars and policymakers.”

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