The northward surge of Mexicans into the United States may never resume.
By Michael Barone
Is mass migration from Mexico to the United States a thing of the past?
... There’s a widespread assumption that Mexican migration will resume when the U.S. economy starts growing robustly again. But I think there’s reason to doubt that will be the case.
Over the past few years, I have been working on a book, scheduled for publication next fall, on American migrations, internal and immigrant. What I’ve found is that over the years this country has been peopled in large part by surges of migration that have typically lasted just one or two generations.
Almost no one predicted that these surges of migration would occur, and almost no one predicted when they would end.
For example, when our immigration system was opened up in 1965, experts testified that we would not get many immigrants from Latin America or Asia. They assumed that immigrants would come mainly from Europe, as they had in the past.
I would take from this history of elite failure to predict the future of immigration a precautionary principle: There are a lot of different peoples in this world, and we don't know what any one of them might get up to, so we need to be prudent and protect ourselves. Instead, the failures of elite forecasting have led elites to double down on the idea that policy should be based upon a philosophy of Hope for the Best, Come What May.
Life in Mexico is not a nightmare for many these days. Beneath the headlines about killings in the drug wars, Mexico has become a predominantly middle-class country, as Jorge Castañeda notes in his recent book, Mañana Forever? Its economy is growing faster than ours.
I reviewed Castaneda's book and he emphasizes how much Mexican material desires outrun any possible fulfillment for most Mexicans within the borders of Mexico. In some other Latin American countries, middle class people are content to live in apartments and take public transportation. Mexicans, in contrast, hate sharing a wall or a subway car with other Mexicans. The Mexican Dream is a single family house with a V8 vehicle or two or three parked out front. Mexicans love sprawl.
And the dreams that many Mexican immigrants pursued have been shattered.
You can see that if you look at the statistics on mortgage foreclosures, starting with the housing bust in 2007. More than half were in the four “sand states” — California, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida — and within them, as the Pew Hispanic Center noted in a 2009 report, in areas with large numbers of Latino immigrants.
These were places where subprime mortgages were granted, with encouragement from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to many Latinos unqualified by traditional credit standards.
These new homeowners, many of them construction workers, dreamed of gaining hundreds of thousands of dollars as housing prices inevitably rose. Instead, they collapsed. My estimate is that one-third of those foreclosed on in these years were Latinos. Their dreams turned into nightmares.
I call this Convergence. Letting in tens of millions of Mexicans has made the U.S. more like Mexico economically, which is what Mexicans have been trying to get away from. They don't come to American because they love the Declaration of Independence's propositions, they come to live the Exurban Dream, to emit a lot of greenhouse gases. A decade ago, the Bush Administration announced at the 2002 White House Conference on Increasing Minority Homeownership a war on racist old downpayments to facilitate that. Now, we are out of money, but how much of a reckoning has there been? Barone has largely adopted my analysis of What Went Wrong, but how many others in the press are completely clueless?
We can see further evidence in last month’s Pew research report on the recent decline in U.S. birthrates. The biggest drop was among Mexican-born women, from 455,000 births in 2007 to 346,000 in 2010.
The most extreme fertility is among newly arrived immigrant women, who have been saving up their babies to have them on American soil. Less immigration knocks hell out of fertility among illegal immigrants. But, that means there are a lot of women in Mexico who have been doing a lot of saving up of babies over the last 4 years. An upturn in the American economy could bring them and their future anchor babies back in a hurry. The notion that Mexican women can't delay fertility for a few years, the way women in more advanced countries have done since the 1970s, seems naive.
Keep in mind also that the Drug War in northern Mexico since 2007 has made the traditional overland routes less attractive, especially for Central Americans (e.g., the large massacres in Mexico of Central Americans heading for the U.S.). The Drug War won't last forever.
Surges of migration that have shaped the country sometimes end abruptly. The surge of Southern blacks to Northern cities lasted from 1940 to 1965 — one generation. The surge of Mexicans into the U.S. lasted from 1982 to 2007 — one generation.
The 1965 terminus for black migration reflects two changes: improvements for blacks in the South and the beginning of the black destruction of their own Northern neighborhoods through rioting and crime.
Similarly, Hispanic illegal immigration contributed hugely to the Recent Economic Unpleasantness, so maybe Mexicans won't find it in their interest to move to Mexico Norte anymore.
The northward surge of American blacks has never resumed. I don’t think the northward surge of Mexicans will, either.