PRI Review

Fewer Workers in Mexico Mean Fewer Immigrants -- Eventually

Mexico’s fertility rate has fallen dramatically from 6.8 children per woman in the late ’60s and continues its downward slide. “The goal of the current population policy is to reach replacement rate fertility,” National Population Council (CONAPO) Director Elena Zuniga told PRI this year. “We will reach this target of 2.l children in 2005–2006.”

Currently, about 500,000 Mexicans, legal and illegal, settle in the United States each year, according to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). There is little question that, other things being equal, Mexico’s dramatic decline in fertility will eventually drive down these numbers. But when will this happen?

Immigration Bogeyman

Ben Wattenberg, who has long bucked the conventional belief in overpopulation and warned of the world’s coming underpopulation crisis, wrote Feb. 20, 2001. “Immigration is the big bogeyman, but it is clearly destined to shrink. Why? Mexico will run out of potential emigrants. How so? Mexico is becoming a modem country. And modern countries have low birthrates.… Moreover, Mexico is climbing the economic ladder.”

That Mexico, with a falling labor supply due to falling birthrates and greater domestic demand for labor due to economic growth, should send fewer economic migrants into the United States seems hard to dispute. However, Mexico's fertility rates began their dramatic drop decades ago and her economy grew rapidly in the ’80s, yet Mexican immigration hit highs in the 1990s and shows no sign of slowing down. How long until the influx slows, assuming the continued absence of any substantial governmental policy changes that reduce immigration?

Some say 25 years or more. “Mexico’s National Population Council (CONAPO), an arm of the powerful Ministry of the Interior, issued a report in November 2001 on migration to the United States through 2030,” wrote David Simcox, president of Migration Demographics, in March 2002. “Among its findings: Contrary to previous assurances, the Mexican government acknowledges in this report that falling birthrates and increased economic development in Mexico will not lead to a reduction in immigration to the United States for at least three decades. The Mexican government projects that mass immigration to the United States will continue at between 3.5 and 5 million people per decade until at least 2030. Even assuming strong economic growth and declining birthrates in Mexico, and weak demand for workers in the United States, immigration in 30 years is still projected to be nearly 400,000 people a year.”

No Drop in Immigration

Steve Camarota, Director of Research at CIS, said that dropping fertility rates have yet to slow emigration out of the countries experiencing them. “The decline in fertility in the ’70s in Mexico from the ’60s should have led to a drop in immigration in the ’90s,” he said. “But it didn’t. It increased.” The same is true for other nations, he said, “Emigration from the former Soviet Union countries has increased dramatically even though fertility rates have collapsed.” Unlike Mexico, “all of them are declining in population or soon will…,” he noted. “China’s birthrate has been below replacement level for some time now but Chinese immigration into the United States continues to accelerate.” This coincides with a tremendous economic boom in China.

Mexico’s “proximity” to and “wage differential” with the United States, plus the welcoming networks and cross-border family ties generated by the 11 million Mexicans already here, will continue to draw immigrants, said Camarota. One of the consequences of mass migration, he said, has been the reliance of “people on sending their sons to the United States instead of forcing the creation of better conditions in Mexico.”

Development Needed

When will Mexico’s declining demographics translate into lower immigration? After a country has developed, not during its economic development, according to Princeton sociology professor and immigration expert Douglas S. Massey, who wrote in the American Prospect, July 1, 2003, “Among sending countries, emigration does not stem from a lack of development but from development itself.”

America’s immigration issue — at least her Mexican slice of it — won’t be resolved by population demographics any time soon. Those who had hoped that promoting population control in the Third World would reduce immigration into the United States have so far been sorely mistaken.

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