Skip to main content

Immigration reform gets U.S. in on Mexico's boom

By Jason Marczak, Special to CNN
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Thu April 18, 2013
Mexican Secretary of Finance Luis Videgaray speaks at the Mexico Economic Summit in Mexico City on March 21.
Mexican Secretary of Finance Luis Videgaray speaks at the Mexico Economic Summit in Mexico City on March 21.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jason Marczak: Obama will see a Mexico on the rise economically when he visits
  • Marczak: Immigration law needs to address the Mexico of today and tomorrow
  • Immigration reform will open up one of Latin America's fastest-growing economies, he says
  • Also critical for increasing cross-border trade is improving efficiency at the border, he says

Editor's note: Jason Marczak is director of policy at Americas Society and Council of the Americas and senior editor of Americas Quarterly.

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama will find that much has changed in Mexico when he arrives on May 2. Our neighbor to the South -- and second-largest export market -- has moved far ahead with reforms.

As Congress crafts comprehensive immigration legislation, Democrats and Republicans must keep in mind that Mexico is changing rapidly, and policies crafted to reflect yesterday's Mexico will not help the U.S. make the most of the potential of today's and tomorrow's Mexico.

Mexico's future is bright, and tapping into this growth and economic prosperity is vital to U.S. competitiveness. But the U.S. needs immigration reform to build on its huge bilateral trade with Mexico -- more than $1 billion in goods and services each day, or $45 million an hour.

Jason Marczak
Jason Marczak

Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto has achieved in less than five months in office what eluded previous administrations for six years. In the second half of 2013, he hopes to add energy to the improvements in education and telecommunications that are sailing through under the umbrella of the Pact for Mexico political agreement.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Demographic and economic transformations in Mexico mean that the U.S. can expect the number of Mexicans coming into the U.S. to slow to a trickle. Mexicans make up about 58% of the 11 million in the U.S. without authorization.

The Pew Hispanic Center reports zero net migration from 2005 to 2010, with about 1.4 million Mexicans both entering and leaving the United States. Pew demographers even raise the possibility that the return flow may be exceeding the number of Mexicans coming north.

The reasons for the drop in Mexican migration are a combination of changes in the "push" and "pull" factors that determine migratory patterns. The decline in the "pull" factor is all too well-known -- it's no longer so desirable to migrate to the U.S. for jobs.

But Mexico's rise also means that going north is a less attractive option for getting ahead in life. Its economy grew at more than double the rate of the U.S. last year, with a projected 3.5% growth in 2013. Between 2005 and 2008, as noted in Americas Society and Council of the Americas "Get the Facts" series, the number of new Mexican businesses created each year increased by 27%, which is 2.5 times the G20 average.

Over the same period, the number of students in Mexico graduating from advanced university level programs increased by 11%.

'Guardedly optimistic' on immigration
Is immigration overhaul in sight?
Rubio all in on immigration plan

If the February education reform, aimed at improving standards to boost the overall quality of education, is successful, more young Mexicans will have the training to compete in the 21st century workforce. In the past decade, the Mexican middle class grew by 17%, and in just two generations, the fertility rate dropped nearly 70% -- signaling the end of the youth bulge that contributed to the "push" to the United States.

Mexico is a hub of business activity. Despite the insecurity in certain parts of the country, Mexican entrepreneurs and foreign companies are setting up shop.

Guadalajara is fast-becoming Mexico's Silicon Valley with tech entrepreneurs from across Mexico flocking to the capital of Jalisco state. At the same time, as wages rise in China, firms are relocating their manufacturing options to Mexico, where wages remain competitive and where products have easier access to the U.S. and Canadian markets through the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Comprehensive immigration reform will open a gateway to one of Latin America's fastest-growing economies. By providing a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants of Mexican origin, reform will make it easier for laborers to cross borders, which will harness the competitiveness of both countries. It would also show that the U.S. is a true economic partner with Mexico and the rest of the Americas.

Legal status would open the door for these immigrants and their children to further increase their contributions to the U.S. economy and to start small businesses that would capitalize on their cross-border networks. This is a highly likely scenario as immigrants are more likely to start a business than those born in the U.S., and Mexicans represent the greatest number of foreign-born small-business owners.

At the same time, greater emphasis on a demand-driven visa system would create new ways for workers to enter the U.S. who will be increasingly needed as baby boomers retire.

Also critical for increasing cross-border trade is improving efficiency at the border. Any new border security plan should improve infrastructure and technology to reduce the congestion that delays trade. Improved trade means more U.S. jobs, with 6 million, or 1 in 24 jobs, across 22 states attributed to bilateral commerce.

Undocumented immigration will keep declining as more Mexicans find new opportunities at home. That means the big question for Congress to consider should be how to ensure that our immigration system helps North American competitiveness and prosperity, and how the U.S. can attract the workers -- including Mexicans-- it will need.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT