The steady flow of remittances has help keep Mexican families from descending into abject poverty. According to various studies as well as those conducted by the Pew Charitable Foundation the remittances are sent in amounts that average between $200-$300 and are sent on a monthly basis. The money by immigrants working in many sectors of the the United States economy has long drawn the attention of Mexican legislators, as well as groups this side of the border who claim such a large amount of money being transfered from one nation to another should be taxed. The total amount of remittances to Mexico in 2006 exceeded $23 Billion US Dollars, the amount was second only to oil export revenues, the largest source of revenue. The remittance level was also notable being that it surpassed tourism.
Julia Preston of The Lede a New York Times blog writes:
Mexican government officials have championed the remittance levels and gone as far as calling the immigrants responsible for sending money national heroes. The fact is that Mexican officials quietly understand the significant role the money sent my immigrants plays not only helping feeding families, but also in eliminating social discontent. The steady outflow of its citizens to the US leaves less unhappy citizens that could potentially protest regarding the lack of jobs and economic opportunities.
According to the Inter-American Development Bank, Mexico received $23 billion in remittances coming from foreign countries in 2006, with most of that coming from immigrants in the United States. Remittances are Mexico’s second largest source of foreign income after oil exports, the central bank reports. A 2003 Pew Hispanic Center Study showed that nearly one-fifth of all adults in Mexico were receiving remittance payments. Last year Sergio Bendixen, a pollster in Miami, found that about three-quarters of Latino immigrants he surveyed (including Mexicans and others) sent money home regularly.
In short, remittances are big for Mexico.
Some readers write to me saying they fear these payments are a drain on the United States economy, because immigrants are not spending the money here. I suggest looking at the bigger picture. As the Times correspondent in Mexico for six years until 2001, I frequently saw the impact of remittances. The funds go directly from immigrants to their spouses, parents and children. The money is often used to refurbish homes, streets and schools; to sustain the elderly; to beautify village squares and start small businesses. They have lifted many Mexicans out of abject poverty and into the consumer market, helping to stabilize Mexico’s economy and expand the demand for American goods. Mexico today is our third largest trading partner, with $332.4 billion in trade in 2006, behind only Canada and China. Mexicans are buying more American stuff every day.
The remittances also afford the Mexican government an ability to focus attention and resources on quelling the occasional crisis that arise within it's poorest states. It comes as no surprise that the single most important event which tested the Mexican government was the Zapatista Uprising in 1993. The Zapatista uprising occurred in the state of Chiapas which the poorest state in Mexico. As recently as 2006 civil unrest broke out in San Salvador de Atenco in the State of Mexico. The same Atenco that was the site of civil unrest in 2002 when campesinos protested and marched against then President Vicente Fox's desire to build a new airport on their lands.
A new airport was sought becaus Mexico City's current airport, the 91 year-old Benito Juarez International Airport is at full capacity. It has one runway for incoming and outgoing flights and President Fox's government had already approved plans to build a six-runway, $2.3 billion airport. The new airport would have gobble up much of San Salvador de Atenco. In October 2001, a federal expropriation ruling offered most of the villagers an estimated 60 cents per square yard, roughly $2,600 per acre. The airport plan announcements and subsequent ruling was met with immediate protests and marches from Atenco campesinos who took to the streets armed with rusty machetes in opposition.
The Tres-Por-Uno program was an idea that was born from collaboration between Mexican home town associations (HTA's)-informal first-generation immigrant clubs usually linked to the village or town of origin-and Mexican government authorities.
The International Relations Center reported this on HTA's.
Mexican migrants in the United States transfer substantial sums of money to Mexico through HTAs. For example, HTAs from the Federation of Michoacano Clubs in Illinois have sent more than $1,000,000 to support public works in their localities of origin. Mexican hometown associations have channeled funds for the construction of public infrastructure (e.g. roads, street and building repair, etc.), the donation of equipment (e.g. ambulances, medical equipment, and vehicles for social and nonprofit purposes, etc.), and the promotion of education (e.g., through scholarship programs, construction of schools, and provision of school supplies). Their most successful fund raising activities include dances, picnics, raffles, charreadas, beauty pageants, and other cultural events that take place throughout the year.
The Tres-Po-Uno program has been in place for more than a decade and has resulted in towns having paved roads and the central plazas that many towns and villages of Mexico. What remittances have not accomplished is contribute towards greater economic prosperity, nor have they done much to foster the micro-enterprises both sides envisioned that would lead to jobs. It is difficult to assess whether job creation alone would have been sufficient at keeping migrant workers home, since salary levels amongst the two countries are difficult to bridge. A low skilled worker in Mexico can earn $2.35 per hour while those similar skills will command $8.50 per hour. The other factor that contributes heavily to migration from Mexico to the US is the longstanding tradition these towns have in sending young men and women to the United States, as well as lure of money and a yearning for adventure young men and women have been told from migrants returning home.
Strict border enforcement and border fencing prohibit a yearly passage into the US. The fact that some 3000 immigrants have died while attempting to cross the border sine 2000 has not gone unnoticed and has resulted immigrants choosing to remain in the US and then bringing their wives and children rather ran risk their lives with a dangerous border crossing.
Their are no clear data on the total number of migrant workers leaving Mexico on a yearly basis, but estimates abound that cite a minimum of 1 million illegal immigrants entering the US borders. The unintended consequences of strict border enforcement and border fencing has contributed to a significant spike in U.S. born children of illegal immigrant parents, children that would otherwise possibly been born in one of the parents native country. These children are often referred to as "anchor babies" and are full fledged US citizens a right afforded to them under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.
Therefore the US broken immigration policies have contributed to the creation of millions of families of mixed status. These mixed status families are comprised of one parent who may be native born or otherwise a legal US resident and an illegal parent with children born in the US and thus US citizens. These mixed status families have much to be concerned because they often include children born in Mexico as well as children born in the US.
In 1986, then President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. At the time I viewed the amnesty provisions for the estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants as the dawn of a new Mexico. I envisioned that Mexico would face a future in which it would be prevented from exporting its greatest asset, it young men and women and work towards improving it's economy and providing economic opportunities at home.
I concluded that this would happen because no US based employer would stomach too many $10,000 fines that the government would impose for the hiring of an undocumented worker. I reasoned that millions of Mexican migrant workers would ultimately return home (self deport) once their prospects for employment deed futile.
Why the US government never enforced workplace verification and why very few employers were ever levied a fine has been largely absent from the debate on illegal immigration.
As our Government renews a debate on illegal immigration and works to craft a comprehensive reform bill we would do well to revisit our past attempts at stemming the flow of illegal immigration and securing our borders. We can start by examining the unintended consequences of our past and failed immigration policies. We can come clean about this countries increasing reliance on cheap immigrant labor. Own up to the fact that it was our policies, not Mexico's that created the vicious cycle we now experience.
The age old statement comes to mind, that of; "Be careful what you wish for, because you may just get it". As I once again gaze into the future, I see Americans complaining about the cost of goods and services, things they currently take for granted but tomorrow will complain about, as prices skyrocket because cheap migrant workers are no longer the norm.
The provisions of the new bill appear to favor skilled working immigrants over low skilled immigrant workers at the expense of family re-unification, which is currently experiencing a 15-20 year backlog anyways. If the bill is signed into law it will pave the way for migrant workers to work and return home, in theory taking skills they have learned in the US and applying them back home. The unintended consequences of this new bill are yet to be seen, but I'm envisioning it will result in more blurring of the borders as low and high skilled workers immigrate from Mexico and the US, then return home. The United States will begin to send immigrants of it's own as it sends many of it's retired senior citizens who seek affordable health care in Mexico, but are also fleeing the high taxes and cost of living back home.
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