A private security guard throws a soccer ball back inside the Tornillo detention camp for migrant teens in Tornillo, Texas, Dec. 13, 2018.
AP Photo/Andres Leighton
q&a / power

A Historian on How Trump’s Wall Rhetoric Changes Lives in Mexico

Ana Raquel Minian explains why the U.S. did not always find it necessary to lock up people seeking asylum.
What is it about this moment in U.S.-Mexico relations regarding immigration that you think is interesting or unique?

Since 2008, there’s actually been net negative migration. So, what we see now is a lot of anti-Mexican rhetoric, for example, when Trump ran his campaign, we heard him say that Mexicans were coming in and they were probably criminals and rapists. But of course what he did not mention was that more Mexicans are leaving the country than coming in.

Mexican migration had grown steadily and increasingly since the end of the bracero program, especially undocumented migration. That was a guest-worker program that started in 1942, in which Mexican workers could come, work legally in the United States for short periods of time, and then return to Mexico. It continued until 1964. Undocumented folks were used to coming in the bracero program, and once the program ended, and they could no longer continue to come legally to the United States, they simply did so without papers. And migration continued to grow until 2008. So, in terms of what’s unique about this historical moment, in terms of Mexican migration, it’s that the rhetoric continues to be very anti-Mexican even though migration is actually in decline from Mexico.

And I assume the main reason for the decline is something to do with the economy in the United States and in Mexico?

Yes, well, a lot of things happened in 2008. The recession harmed Mexicans greatly and many just decided to start heading home. The other thing is that Mexican migration, up until 1986, used to be circular. It was primarily men who would come. They would stay here for a while, they would make some money, and then they would return home to be with their families. And then when they needed money again they would come again. Now, in 1986, what happens is there’s a new law [the Immigration Reform and Control Act] that legalizes a lot of people, but another thing that it does is it fortifies the U.S.-Mexico border, making it harder to engage in the circular migration of coming and going.

So if workers can’t continue to come and go between the two countries, and things in Mexico haven’t changed, they simply come to the United States and settle here permanently and they bring their families. Now, many cannot bring their families, so by 2008 many have lived in the United States for many, many years without seeing their mothers, for example, and the recession hit, and many thought that it’s no longer worth it to live in the United States, and they start heading back home to be with their family members. Another thing that occurs around that period is that the drug cartels make the border region much more dangerous and some people are scared of crossing. It’s the combination of those factors that encourages people to rethink their choices and to go back to Mexico instead of migrating in such high numbers.
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