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If Mexico's Immigration Law Were Like Alabama's

October 7, 2011

My article from the O/A News

The Alabama Legislature and Gov. Robert Bentley are pounding their chests for passing the nation’s toughest immigration law, but the punk economy north of the border and expanding opportunities south of it were already slowing the rate of illegal immigration.

For the past three decades, Mexicans have migrated by the millions to work in the United States. Now, they are returning home, and young people south of the Rio Grande are staying put.

“I’m not going to go to the States because I’m more concerned with my studies,” said Angel Orozco, who is studying at a new technological institute where he is earning a degree in industrial engineering. All the students in a recent class at the institute said they are better educated than their parents — and they all plan to stay in Mexico rather than go to the United States.

Simple demographic factors are also at play. The average Mexican mother is now having two children rather than nearly seven, as was the case in 1970.

So the number of job seekers has fallen from over a million in the 1990s to 800,000 now, with that number expected to fall to 300,000 in 2030. And the violent drug cartels that control the border have also made the journey crossing the border more dangerous and expensive. Like everything in life, the decision to emigrate involves a cost-benefit analysis. It doesn’t make sense to uproot yourself and your family if the costs have increased and the benefits (job opportunities) have decreased.

Mexico is often depicted as poverty-stricken and violent, but economist Robert Newell tells The New York Times, “conventional wisdom is wrong.” Newell says per capita gross domestic product and family income have each jumped more than 45 percent since 2000.

In addition to tourism, the tequila business has boomed, as well as manufacturing. In 2003, migrants to the north made nearly four times what they could earn at home. That ratio is shrinking. While our recession cut into immigrant earnings in the United States, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, wages have risen in Mexico, according to World Bank figures.

More homes have water and trash services in Mexico, and the number of senior high schools in the state of Jalisco, for instance, has more than doubled from 360 in 2000 to 724 in 2009. Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher in Jalisco have more than doubled as well.

So while young workers have stopped risking life and limb to come north, retirees are moving to Mexico in droves. An estimated 100 million boomers in the U.S. and Canada alone are hoping to retire over the next 20 years. With a low cost of living, great climate and low-cost medical care, Mexico is a desirable choice. It’s predicted that 10 million English-speakers will be living in Mexico by 2022, with the majority of those being people over 60 who are retiring there.

However, retirees will be disappointed if Mexico passes the same sort of immigration law Alabama just did.

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