Immigration from Mexico: New Papers Examine Implications and Options

By CIS on March 1, 2002

WASHINGTON (March 19, 2002) - When President Bush goes to Mexico later this week to meet Mexican President Vicente Fox, immigration issues will be high on their agenda. Both presidents have supported a guestworker program for Mexican workers as a way of granting amnesty to the 3-4 million Mexican illegal immigrants in the United States. What are America's options with regard to immigration from Mexico, and what are the implications of various policy proposals?

To address these questions, the Center for Immigration Studies today publishes two papers. The first is "Enchilada Lite: A Post-9/11 Mexican Migration Agreement," by Robert S. Leiken, a scholar affiliated with the Brookings Institution and the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom. Leiken starts from the assumption that it is in America's interest to transform Mexican immigration from the chaotic, dangerous, habitual, and illegal to the regulated, safe, selective, and legal. He weighs the pros and cons of amnesties and guestworker programs and offers an outline of a possible deal.

Leiken suggests: a temporary increase in green cards for Mexicans, with the number declining until it returns to the current legal level in 2015, at which point illegal entries should be stopped and all Mexican immigrants should be legal immigrants; an "earned amnesty" for selected illegal immigrants already here; stringent enforcement of employer sanctions to limit the degree to which such an amnesty would attract new illegal immigration; and development assistance for communities in central and southern Mexico which currently send immigrants. But the sine qua non of such an agreement would be complete and active cooperation from Mexico in preventing illegal crossings of its border with the United States.

The second paper released today is "Another Half Century of Mass Mexican Immigration: Mexican Government Report Projects Continued Flow Regardless of Economics or Birth Rates," a Backgrounder by David Simcox, chairman of the Center for Immigration Studies. Simcox offers a summary and analysis of a new and significant report from Mexico's National Population Council (CONAPO) which, contrary to previous assurances, finds that falling birth rates and increased economic development in Mexico will not lead to a reduction in immigration to the United States for at least three decades, under even the most optimistic scenario. Examining several different scenarios, the Mexican government report says that immigration will continue at between 3.5 and 5 million people per decade until at least 2030, and will cause the Mexican-born population in the U.S. to at least double by that year, reaching 16 to 18 million.

Also germane to the Bush-Fox visit this week are several other recent Center publications:

  • "Immigration from Mexico: Assessing the Impact on the United States," by Steven A. Camarota (Center Paper 19, July 2001). This report, by the Center's research director, contains detailed information on the economic and demographic characteristics of Mexican immigrants at both the national and state level. Topics examined include: education, welfare use, poverty and economic mobility, insurance coverage, school-age population, impact on prices and native wages, and performance of the 2nd and 3rd generations.

  • "Dual Citizenship and American National Identity," by Stanley A. Renshon (Center Paper 20, October 2001) Renshon, a political science professor at City University of New York and a certified psychoanalyst, asks whether it is possible or desirable to have two, possibly conflicting, core identifications and attachments, an important question in light of Mexico's decision in the late 1990s to permit dual nationality. Among his conclusions are that no country can afford to have large numbers of citizens with shallow national or civic attachments and that no country facing divisive domestic issues arising out of increasing diversity, as the United States does today, benefits from large-scale immigration of those with multiple loyalties and attachments.

  • "Attitudes Toward Amnesty: Zogby Poll Examines Support Among Different Constituencies," by Steven A. Camarota (September 2001 Backgrounder) This poll, taken before the 9/11 attacks, was one of the first to examine in detail how various segments of the population would view an amnesty. Using neutral language, the poll of likely voters also explored how supporting an amnesty might affect votes for President Bush and members of Congress in the future among different groups of constituents. While overall the poll found little support for an amnesty, it did show some significant differences among groups; the strongest opposition to amnesty was found among conservatives, moderates, union households, and voters with lower incomes.

  • "An Examination of the Premises Underlying a Guestworker Program," Mark Krikorian's June 2001 testimony before the House immigration subcommittee. This paper looks at nine underlying assumptions of those supporting a guestworker program with Mexico, including: "The flow of workers from Mexico is inevitable," "The poor are overpaid," "These are jobs Americans won't do," "A free market in goods requires a free market in labor," "Guestworkers will go home," "There will be no significant cost to taxpayers," "Mass access to foreign labor won't slow innovation," "Such a program is administratively feasible," and "There are no alternatives."

For contact information for the authors of these reports, call the Center at (202) 466-8185.