Mexico Has No Interest in Stopping Migration Into the U.S., Whether It’s Legal or Illegal

Isaac Guzman/AFP via Getty
Isaac Guzman/AFP via Getty
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Wise up, America. We somehow have held onto the crazy idea that Mexico is our partner in border security.

I blame Donald Trump. The former president hatched a plan to force tens of thousands of Central Americans seeking refugee status to “remain in Mexico” while their asylum claims are heard by U.S. immigration courts. Trump needed the cooperation of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. He got it.

But, for the Mexican government, helping to keep Central Americans out of the United States is one thing. Helping to keep Mexican migrants out of the U.S. is an entirely different story.

Diplomats in Mexico and the United States both put forth the cozy image of two neighbors working together to mend a fence. But when it comes to combating illegal immigration into the United States, Mexico is not our amigo.

In 2001, the Mexican government—then headed by President Vicente Fox—devised a plan to produce and distribute compact survival kits to Mexican migrants crossing the border. Containing everything from salt tablets to bandages to snacks, the kits were nicknamed by the sarcastic Mexican press as cajitas feliz (“Happy Meals”). Ridiculed on both sides of the border, the project was soon discontinued.

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In 2005, the Fox administration printed and disseminated a comic-book-style pamphlet with tips on how to cross into the U.S. illegally—and avoid detection once they got here. Dubbed “The Guide for the Mexican Immigrant,” the 32-page how-to manual used color drawings and short phrases. If you cross in the desert, the booklet advised, do it “when the heat is not so intense.” Given that thousands of Mexican migrants have died crossing the border illegally, Mexican officials claimed they were trying to save lives.

But Mexico has another motivation in having millions of its people living and working in the U.S. It’s called dinero. A staggering amount of it.

In a historic shift, remittances sent by Mexican immigrants working in the U.S. (and other parts of the world) to family members in Mexico now account for more than any other foreign source of income—more than tourism, oil revenue and manufacturing exports. Mexico wouldn’t dare turn off the spigot.

The nation’s central bank—Banco de México—confirmed earlier this month that in 2021 Mexican migrants sent home about $51.6 billion. That is a 27.1 percent jump from the previous year. In the month of December 2021, remittances flowing into Mexico totaled about $4.6 billion, up more than 30 percent from the amount that came into the country in December 2020.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>In 2021, Mexican migrants sent home about $51.6 billion. </p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters</div>

In 2021, Mexican migrants sent home about $51.6 billion.

Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters

Over the last decade, these remittances—as a percentage of Mexico’s GDP—have almost doubled. They’ve grown from 2 percent of GDP in 2010 to 3.8 percent in 2020.

Mexico is the world’s third largest recipient of remittances from around the globe, according to the Mexican government. The top two? India and China.

Between 2010 and 2020, the percentage of households in Mexico receiving remittances rose from 3.6 percent to 5.1 percent. And not long after hitting grandma’s bank account, that money gets spent, and spreads throughout the Mexican economy.

A Mexican dishwasher in Las Vegas who earns $400 per week sends a quarter of it back home to his mother in Ciudad Juarez. At the current exchange rate, that $100 converts to more than 2,000 pesos. The mother pays rent, buys food, and gets clothes for her younger children. The merchants who take in that cash then spend it on their own needs. Before long, the dishwasher’s dollars-to-pesos have traveled all over town. Finally, as an added benefit to Mexico, the river of money coming in from the United States alleviates the pressure on the Mexican government to diversify its economy and create more opportunity for Mexicans while they’re still in Mexico.

Mind you, all this economic activity is occurring during a global pandemic. In the United States, many Mexicans are “essential workers.”

Former President George W. Bush was absolutely right that immigrants do “jobs that Americans won’t do.” It’s been this way since the German immigrants landed on the Eastern seaboard in the mid-1770s.

But, in 2022, the list of jobs done by immigrants, especially Mexican immigrants, goes on and on. You name the gig, and Mexicans get the job done. And they don’t “work remotely.” Mexicans pick peaches, do construction work, cook in diners, make hotel beds, and help keep millions of American families afloat by lending a hand as housekeepers, gardeners, nannies, and elder care providers.

Americans ought to be grateful that they are so well-cared for by those who do their chores for them. We need a “National Hug A Mexican Day.” We’ll throw a huge fiesta. The tab could be picked up by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But many Americans instead see these hard-working, law-abiding people as “invaders” stealing “their jobs.” Republicans, oftentimes, absurdly describe the situation as the result of an “open border.”

President Biden’s budget request for fiscal year 2022 includes $90.8 billion for the Department of Homeland Security. There are almost 20,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents, with plenty of tools at their disposal to keep out border crossers. If all the U.S. government’s boats, planes, helicopters, drones, all-terrain vehicles, fences, spotlights, electronic sensors, and tunnel detection devices constitute an open border, I’d hate to see a closed one.

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Let’s get real. Americans are never going to stop arguing about immigration, illegal or otherwise. We can’t even agree on facts, let alone opinion.

But at least we can be clear about one thing. If the goal of the United States is to stop illegal immigration—and, mind you, that is a big “if” given how addicted Americans have become over the last 30 years to undocumented immigrant labor, especially when Americans don’t feel like working—we’ll need to go it alone.

We can’t count on Mexico to be a partner. Our neighbor will never prevent Mexican immigrants from entering the United States—legally if possible, but illegally if necessary. No one walks away from a slot machine spitting out silver dollars.

Mexico's end game has finally come into focus. Its goal is not to help the United States solve a problem. Its objective is to continually find new ways to keep that problem from getting solved.

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