Kudos to the Sagamore Institute for reporting on the growing migration and trade links between Mexico and Indiana (Dispatch, “Going ‘Local’,” Sep. 13-20). Their study supports claims made here in August by Mexican Ambassador Carlos de Icaza: that the ties that bind our economies and people are mutually beneficial. Both highlight the contributions that immigrants make to - not what they take from - central Indiana. But neither the ambassador nor the Sagamore report, which Indy’s Mexican Consulate commissioned, explain how Mexico’s own economic policies foster emigration. Of course, diplomats are paid to defend government policies. Thus the ambassador’s focus on increased trade. But what needs to be explained is how 20 years of free-market reforms have displaced farmers and factory jobs and produced mounting inequality across Mexico. Such policy failures explain why the Mexican Left doubled its vote in this summer’s presidential elections.
Mexico was once a model of Third World development, producing abundant jobs for migrants from the countryside. Then came an economic crisis and the free-trade solution. Remember NAFTA? Its proponents promised that greater trade meant more jobs and less migration. Guess what? US-Mexican trade more than doubled. But Mexican emigration accelerated as well. That was caused as much by labor demands here as declining opportunity in Mexico, which now suffer job losses to China. Meanwhile, one of ten Mexicans lives in the US. They sent $20 billion home in 2005, an amount roughly equal to US foreign aid to the entire world. As Mexican policymakers know, those emigrants and their remittances help families survive and foster political stability at home. That’s something that US policymakers should consider as we enter another season of immigration debates and nativist bluster about closing the door on our southern neighbors.