Barone: More reasons to believe we won’t see a new surge of Latin immigration

By Michael Barone

Evidence keeps coming in support of the arguments I have made repeatedly, in my recent book Shaping Our Nation: How Surges of Migration Have Transformed America and Its Politics, in several Washington Examiner columns and blog posts, and on Fox News’ “Power Play,” that we are not likely to see again a surge of immigration from Mexico of the magnitude of the huge wave in the single generation of 1982-2007.

The first bit of evidence is an article by Damien Cave in yesterday’s New York Times on the growing middle class in Mexico. He focuses on a 23-year-old engineering graduate in Guanajuato, the prosperous area north of Mexico City and well south of the border, who is moving to a engineering job with Volkswagen. The auto industry has been expanding in Mexico, to the point that there are more auto jobs there than in the Midwest, and the state of Guanajuato, with excellent new roads, sparkling clean industrial parks and corruption-free government, is one of the new centers of the growing Mexican middle class. T

The Pew Hispanic Center reported that there has been no net migration from Mexico to the United States since 2007, and the existence of opportunities like those depicted in this article are one reason why. People immigrate in large numbers not just to make more money, but to pursue dreams and escape nightmares. Mexico’s economy is generating more good jobs, and the United States (after the foreclosure crisis which hit so many Mexican immigrants) looks less like a dream and Mexico less like a nightmare.

The second bit of evidence is an article by Miriam Jordan in today’s Wall Street Journal. The article is mostly based on data on remittances from Western Union, whose main business is to transfer money from one country to another. There are big bucks in remittances ($518 billion in 2012) and they are a major source of gross domestic product in nations with large immigrant outflows.

The big news here is that the flows are not just going from the United States to countries in Latin America, but from one Latin country to another. In the last decade, more than half of Western Union’s revenue was generated in the United States; in 2012, the figure was less than 30 percent.

A map shows that in 2012, more than half the remittances to every country in South America (except Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana) plus Nicaragua came from countries other than the United States. Immigrants from these countries are seeking and finding work in places like Brazil and Chile.

It is true that most remittances to Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Central America (except for Nicaragua) come from the United States. But there are not enough people in those countries to produce an immigrant surge of the magnitude of the 1982-2007 Mexican immigration. And there are enough alternatives for prospective immigrants from South America in other South American countries to make it unlikely for them to produce a surge of that magnitude to the United States in the foreseeable future.

We tend to think of the United States as the only substantial immigrant destination in the world. We are and were, in the years before the 1924 immigration act and after the 1965 immigration act, No. 1. But it looks like we’re not nearly so dominant an immigration destination as we were in the 1980s and 1990s.

As other nations in both hemispheres (Jordan reports immigrant surges into Malaysia) grow and develop, they will attract immigrants who might otherwise go to the United States or, if they have sufficiently high skills, to Canada or Australia. Immigrants from Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries will tend to go to Spanish- and Portuguese-language countries if jobs are available, just as 100 years ago we received negligible number of immigrants from Spain and Portugal because they went to Argentina or Brazil instead.

My ultimate point is that we have less reason than formerly to fear large numbers of low-skill illegal immigrants from Latin America and more reason to revise our immigration laws to favor high-skill immigrants, as Canada and Australia do.

Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. 

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