NY Times Scratches Surface on U.S. Workers Living in Mexico

By David North on August 2, 2022

The NY Times does a lot of things well, but often slips when it comes to immigration matters.

The latest example was in the Business Section of the Sunday, July 31, paper; it dealt, in an ever so casual manner, with an obscure immigration matter — people living in Mexico and working in the U.S.

The thrust of the article, which was on the real estate page, was that “U.S. citizens living in Tijuana are able to save up for a home on either side of the border.” This is the case because rents, and other costs of living, are notably lower in Mexico than in adjacent parts of the United States.

It was an upbeat article about how some Americans save money by living in Mexico (in this case, just south of San Diego) and commuting to work in California. There was a sort of gee-whiz air to it, and while the phenomenon can be encountered from one end of the Mexican border to the other you cannot tell that from reading the story.

It so happens that my first government-funded immigration study (and there were a lot of them) dealt with the subject of people living in Mexico and working in the United States, and while that research is now more than 50 years old, the pattern is still very much in place. I did the job for the U.S. Department of Labor and cannot find the report online, although it was published by the now-long-gone U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Migratory Labor chaired by Sen. Walter Mondale (D-Minn.).

What the Times missed completely was that most of the border-crossers in those days, and presumably to this day, are not U.S. citizens, they are green card holders, almost exclusively of Mexican origin. I found a one-shot survey done by the old INS that showed 61,946 crossers (on January 17, 1966); of them 18,259 were citizens and 43,687 were permanent resident aliens. Everyone agreed that this could not help but be an undercount, given the way it was conducted. In that survey about 20 percent of the crossings were at the San Diego border.

I cannot argue that this is a terribly important policy problem, but I wish the Times would, as a pattern, identify the immigration categories involved in such matters and write about all the sub-populations involved.

As to a policy matter, we are dealing with a group of people who spend most of the hours of their lives in another nation, softening their impact on all aspects of American life other than the labor market. Further, the border-crossing workers are not semi-indentured aliens covered by some foreign worker scheme.