The big news this week seems to be that the Mexican government is not happy with President Trump’s border control plans. That headline comes on the heels of the news that the sun is hot. Imagine that!
Mexico is not happy that President Trump appears to be serious about building a border wall and halting the cross-border human traffic. The improvements in border security promised in the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 as a trade-off for the general amnesty never happened, and illegal border crossings have trended upwards again after a brief decline connected to the 2008-10 recession. Apprehensions of illegal border jumpers on the southwest border have increased every year but one since 2010, and increased 23 percent from 2015 to 2016.
Because of the relative ease of crossing the border and Mexico’s liberal definition of Mexican citizenship, we have the situation recently described by author Ann Coulter, who discovered that persons of Mexican origin now residing in the United States — legal and illegal– are equal in number to over 25 percent of the 130 million population of Mexico.
The Pew Hispanic Center says there were 33.7 million Americans of Mexican descent in the United States in 2012, and that figure is based in part on the official Census figure of 11.3 million illegal aliens, over 60 percent of whom are from Mexico. If you believe as I do that the illegal alien population of the U.S. is over 25 million, not 11.3 million, then the percentage of Mexican nationals now residing in the U.S. — persons recognized as Mexican citizens under the Mexican Constitution — is considerably above 25 percent.
Few Americans are aware that in 2005, in recognition of the growing importance of remittances to the Mexican economy and thus the growing importance of maintaining a close connection with the millions of Mexicans who have moved north, the Mexican constitution was amended to bestow voting rights in presidential elections for Mexicans living abroad. In 2012, over eleven million Mexicans living in the United States voted in the Mexican presidential election.
Let me put this in stark economic terms: Mexico’s national income grows in direct proportion to the size of the illegal Mexican population inside the United States. Does that help explain the Mexican fixation on U.S. politics? Mexico’s most profitable export to the U.S. is not oil or avocados or automobile parts, it is people.
Mexicans living and working in the U.S. send home over $20 billion annually in cash remittances — more than Mexico earns in foreign currency from tourism or any export commodity.
In 1979, Mexico received only $177,000 (U.S. Dollars) in remittances; in 2016 it was $26.1 BILLION — over 90 percent of it from persons living in the United States. (See here for a GAO report on remittances to Mexico from the U.S. and here for the World Bank reports for total remittances received by Mexico.)
You don’t believe government data? Even the Clinton News Network confirms it: this recent CNN report says Mexico relies more on remittance income than the sale of oil or tourism.
To guarantee those remittance dollars keep flowing north to south, Mexico must keep exporting its citizens south to north. Does anyone think Mexico will give up that lucrative income graciously? Do you think Mexican politicians will welcome an interruption of either of those two flows — either people going north or dollars coming south?
As a Congressman, back in 2001, I visited Mexico along with two of my colleagues and met with several high government officials in the Mexican capital. One of those officials was Juan Hernandez, a dual citizen with a home in Texas, who at that time was the head of a cabinet department. That department had the name, Ministry for Mexicans Living Abroad, but it has since been reorganized and given a lower public profile as the Institute for Mexicans Abroad, a government-funded division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
I asked Señor Hernandez, what exactly do you do here? He was quite candid and informative and not the least bit apologetic. Hernandez’s job was to direct and coordinate a large collection of enterprises of transport and educational activities aimed at assisting and encouraging Mexicans in physically moving north across Mexico and entering the United States.
I was struck by both the grandiosity and bravura of that official Mexican government operation—directed by a cabinet official. Somewhat shocked by his candid admissions, I asked Hernandez, hey, aren’t you embarrassed by violating the sovereignty of a neighboring country? His reply was delivered calmly and with a smile. I remember his words clearly: “Really, congressman, we don’t have two countries here, it’s just a region.”
I also asked Hernandez, why does the Mexican government work so hard to maintain contact with Mexicans even after they become naturalized citizens of the United States? He told me, it’s because they tend to stop sending money home after they assimilate. Assimilation, he believed, was a problem: if Mexicans stopped being Mexicans first, and Americans second, that is very bad for Mexico.
Juan Hernandez, as I said, is a dual citizen of Mexico and the United States, and he has been very involved in U.S. politics. In 2008, working from his Texas home, he was named as presidential candidate John McCain’s chief of Outreach to Hispanic Americans.
You can make of that connection with John McCain what you will; maybe the guy just needed a job. But as for myself, I would worry if my candidate were endorsed by the Juan Hernandez characters of the world, and I am delighted that Señor Juan Hernandez is apoplectic over the plans announced by President Trump.
What lies ahead for U.S.-Mexican relations? Your guess is as good as mine, but if Trump persists in his plans, Mexican bluster and outrage will be replaced by a more pragmatic accommodation. The border will continue to be a point of conflict, but Mexico may come to realize that the end of the remittance cornucopia was inevitable.
Mexico can grow its own economy and create millions of jobs for its people by abandoning its socialist dogmas and state-owned enterprises. If that happens, someday soon Mexican politicians will see the bitter medicine administered by Trump as a blessing in disguise.
Polls of newly-arrived Mexicans who entered our country illegally reveal that the large majority of them do not intend to stay forever. Typically, upon arrival, they plan to get a job, send money home, and then return home to Mexico and enjoy a better life than what they left.
Mexicans naturally retain a love of the country of their birth—and that love of country is certainly not a bad thing if you think of it as your true home. If ten million Mexicans now in the United States became optimistic about Mexico’s future and returned home to fight corruption, build a better educational system and a stronger economy, that, too, would not be a bad thing.