Skip to main content

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

By Jason Marczak, Special to CNN
April 18, 2013 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
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
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT