M.I.A. from the Immigration Debate, Creating Economic Opportunity in Mexico

Could an influx of foreign aid to Mexico solve America’s immigration problem?

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


For all the talk about immigration reform on the Hill, there has been notably little discussion about what is driving Mexican immigrants to pour over the border into the U.S., let alone any debate about measures that might go to the root of the problem. According to Laura Carlsen, the director of the International Relations Center’s Americas Program, the reason behind the “massive out-migration” is fairly clear. Put simply, she wrote not long ago, “Mexico is not producing enough decent jobs for its people—and the United States is hiring.” It would seem, then, that one potential answer to the United States’ so-called immigration problem would be an effective development policy toward Mexico (whose citizens make up 56 percent of America’s undocumented population, according to the Pew Hispanic Center), including both private investment and foreign aid. As it stands, Mexico receives the bulk of its aid not from the U.S. government or corporations but from immigrants themselves.

Despite having incomes well below the national average, many Mexican immigrants regularly send a portion of their earnings home to support their families and sometimes entire communities. Remittances from immigrant workers now stand approximately equal to oil revenues as one of the two largest sources of foreign income in Mexico. According to Guillermo Ortíz, head of Mexico’s central bank, they totaled $23.54 billion in 2006.

These remittances – the vast majority sent from the United States, primarily in payments of $100 to $200 — exponentially exceed foreign aid to Mexico. According to the Century Foundation, for every dollar in official foreign aid that goes to Mexico, immigrants send home $150. The bottom line is that these remittances have become a substitute—and a poor one at that—for effective development policies aimed at generating employment and stimulating rural production.

While the United States frequently grouses to the Mexican government that it ought to provide economic opportunities at home that will keep its citizens from teeming over our border, we’ve been less quick to provide Mexico with much help in doing so. To the contrary, the U.S. continues to exploit Mexico’s resources for its own needs. Those resources, of course, include the very undocumented workers we complain about, which, like the illicit drugs we likewise condemn, would soon cease to flow north across the border if there were no demand for them here.

The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was supposed to be a tremendous boon for Mexico, as well as for the United States and Canada, creating the beginnings of a common market for the benefit of all. More than 13 years later, though, the relationship still smacks of colonialism. Howard Zinn, the author of A People’s History of the United States who has documented the history of U.S. colonialism in Latin America, says of the current immigration debate, “Why should capital go freely across borders while people cannot? These are human beings trying to make a better life, for god’s sake. Why is the wall on the Mexican border more acceptable than the Berlin Wall?”

Contrast all this to what’s happened in the European Union, which was formed just two years prior to NAFTA, in 1992. Through the post-war years and well into the 1980s, most of the huge number of foreign guest workers in then-richer nations like Britain, Germany, France, and Switzerland came not from the so-called Third World, but from current European Union member-countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Ireland. Instead of just employing foreign workers, though, the wealthier European nations also jumpstarted the economies of their poorer neighbors with billions of dollars in investments. As Douglas Massey, a Princeton University sociologist and co-director of the school’s Mexican Migration Project, told the San Francisco Chronicle last year, if “the United States had approached Mexico and its integration into the North American economy in the same way that the European Union approached Spain and Portugal in 1986, we wouldn’t have an immigration problem now.”

AN IMPORTANT UPDATE

We’re falling behind our online fundraising goals and we can’t sustain coming up short on donations month after month. Perhaps you’ve heard? It is impossibly hard in the news business right now, with layoffs intensifying and fancy new startups and funding going kaput.

The crisis facing journalism and democracy isn’t going away anytime soon. And neither is Mother Jones, our readers, or our unique way of doing in-depth reporting that exists to bring about change.

Which is exactly why, despite the challenges we face, we just took a big gulp and joined forces with The Center for Investigative Reporting, a team of ace journalists who create the amazing podcast and public radio show Reveal.

If you can part with even just a few bucks, please help us pick up the pace of donations. We simply can’t afford to keep falling behind on our fundraising targets month after month.

Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery said it well to our team recently, and that team 100 percent includes readers like you who make it all possible: “This is a year to prove that we can pull off this merger, grow our audiences and impact, attract more funding and keep growing. More broadly, it’s a year when the very future of both journalism and democracy is on the line. We have to go for every important story, every reader/listener/viewer, and leave it all on the field. I’m very proud of all the hard work that’s gotten us to this moment, and confident that we can meet it.”

Let’s do this. If you can right now, please support Mother Jones and investigative journalism with an urgently needed donation today.

payment methods

AN IMPORTANT UPDATE

We’re falling behind our online fundraising goals and we can’t sustain coming up short on donations month after month. Perhaps you’ve heard? It is impossibly hard in the news business right now, with layoffs intensifying and fancy new startups and funding going kaput.

The crisis facing journalism and democracy isn’t going away anytime soon. And neither is Mother Jones, our readers, or our unique way of doing in-depth reporting that exists to bring about change.

Which is exactly why, despite the challenges we face, we just took a big gulp and joined forces with The Center for Investigative Reporting, a team of ace journalists who create the amazing podcast and public radio show Reveal.

If you can part with even just a few bucks, please help us pick up the pace of donations. We simply can’t afford to keep falling behind on our fundraising targets month after month.

Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery said it well to our team recently, and that team 100 percent includes readers like you who make it all possible: “This is a year to prove that we can pull off this merger, grow our audiences and impact, attract more funding and keep growing. More broadly, it’s a year when the very future of both journalism and democracy is on the line. We have to go for every important story, every reader/listener/viewer, and leave it all on the field. I’m very proud of all the hard work that’s gotten us to this moment, and confident that we can meet it.”

Let’s do this. If you can right now, please support Mother Jones and investigative journalism with an urgently needed donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate