Under the Fence: US-Mexican Immigration Issues

By Burnor, Emily | Harvard International Review, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Under the Fence: US-Mexican Immigration Issues


Burnor, Emily, Harvard International Review


Over the past decade, tension at the US-Mexican border has heightened as an enormous influx of Mexicans has entered the southwestern United States. According to a study conducted by Mexico's National Population Council (CONAPO) in 2001, an estimated 3.5 to 5 million Mexican immigrants enter the United States each decade. Approximately 400,000 Mexicans cross the border annually, of which 175,000 are legal. The remaining 200,000 to 300,000 enter the United States illegally, primarily seeking employment and higher wage rates. This movement of Mexican workers into the southwestern United States has affected US-Mexican relations, particularly in Mexico.

In 2000, the recently inaugurated US President George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox began negotiating the immigration issue, weighing the costs and benefits of demographic changes. Initiating an illegal-alien amnesty was a priority on the United States' agenda until September 11, when the United States abandoned the talks with Mexico and redirected its attention to combating terrorists. As Mexico presented no immediate threat to national security, the United States had larger external issues to address than Mexican immigration.

Massive emigration to the United States, however, remains an issue on the Mexican government's mind. Mexico is experiencing rapid population growth, which contributes to tightening economic and social conditions. CONAPO estimates the Mexican fertility rate will reach 2.1 percent by 2005 and the population will reach approximately 115 million by 2010. As a result, the unemployment and underemployment rates have risen as fewer job opportunities have emerged in the market. The Mexican government loosely defines an employed person as someone who is at least 12 years old and who works at least one hour per week; unemployment rates in 2003 reached approximately 3.5 percent, which is phenomenally high considering the definition of an employed person. Mexican underemployment, which encompasses employees earning less than minimum wage or those unable to find more than 35 hours of paid work a week, reached a staggering 9.03 percent in 2003.

The US recession after September 11 partially contributed to this unemployment increase for Mexico, but exponential birth rates have been known to stunt economic growth as well. Even during a recession, the United States, with higher wage rates and a relatively higher standard of living, is an extremely attractive alternative for impoverished Mexicans. However slow the economy is in the United States, it remains considerably slower in Mexico at any given time. After the peso devaluation between the years 2001 to 2002, an increased number of Mexicans, despite a sluggish economy in the United States, crossed the border to escape Mexico's recession, which was anticipated to worsen in the following year.

Fox's concern for the migration flow persisted after September 11. …

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