Blame Mexico: the Mess Starts at Home

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I've lived in California for 24 years. I've always taken the most liberal line on immigration, without much question. I supported amnesty for undocumented workers and I marched against California's propositions that made it harder for immigrants to receive social services. My patriotism is rooted in their perspective; their appreciation for how good life is in America serves as a valuable check on all those who complain that life was better 50 years ago or life is better in France today.

But my preset acceptance has been a blindness. Liberals like me have ignored the way the steady trickle of new Americans has become a massive repopulation program, primarily from Mexico. During the 1970s, 120,000 Mexicans came to the U.S. every year. During the 1980s, it was about 200,000 a year. During the 1990s, it was 350,000 a year. Today, it's estimated at 485,000—every year. One out of every eight Mexican-born adults is now living in the U.S.

I no longer think it's okay to give the Mexican government a free pass. Pushing its poor towards the U.S. seems to have become Mexico's primary social policy. The migration rate is the highest from the areas with the poorest people. But the Mexican government has not pushed money into those areas to ease the conditions that force Mexicans to leave. It's doing the opposite; the World Bank says those states are receiving the least government help.

This has been a threefold victory for the Mexican government. First, it eliminates the financial concern of how to care for these people. Second, the citizens who would be the angriest about the government's inadequacies keep leaving the country. Those who would vote, protest, stage walkouts, and revolt—instead keep voting with their feet. Which in turn protects The Powers That Be. And third, as a reward for watching entire communities empty out, they receive a huge influx of cash.

Last year, Mexicans received $20 billion in remittances from their relatives in the U.S. That's more than Mexico receives in foreign aid. That's more than international tourists spend in Mexico every year. The only industry it earns more from is oil. The fact of the matter is that the Mexican government simply cannot afford to stem the tide of migration. Since 2000, about $100 billion has been wired into Mexico.

I would be fine with that, if the Mexican government were using this as capital to end corruption and kickstart its economy. One Mexican academic has determined that of the 16 Mexican states with the highest migration rates, not one has made economic development a priority. Rather than more Mexicans going to work, more are quitting their jobs because they can live off the remittances. In five Mexican states, remittances now equal more than 100% of local salaries. In one state, Michoacan, it's 182%. Mexican academics are calling their country's relationship to the U.S. "parasitic"—they insist it is not making Mexico stronger, just making Mexico more dependent.

Can you imagine the uproar in the U.S. if our national social policy for poor people was to encourage them to leave the country and go to Canada?

The Mexican government denies it is encouraging people to leave. But Mexico has still not made human trafficking illegal. They distributed 1.5 million comic books with instructions on how to cross the border safely. Yucatan distributed a similar book, complete with bonus DVD. Last December, Mexico began a publicity campaign reminding Mexicans that they were entitled to a $5.15 minimum wage in the U.S.—but it has not adequately enforced its own minimum wage of 60 cents.

Rather than making it harder to run off to America, they've made it easier. Mexicans residing in the U.S. can now keep their money in Mexican banks denominated in dollars, not pesos. They can get special-rate mortgages for purchasing property in Mexico.

When President Vicente Fox calls the emigrants "heroes," he is taking advantage of their hard labor. He shouldn't celebrate this migration. It should be considered a tragedy that the Mexican government has not done more to end corruption, enable their economy, and care for its citizens.

It's fine to welcome immigrants and support their rights. But why do we attack our own government so loudly, and yet remain so silent on how their government is failing them? For a good liberal, there's nothing more damning than looking culturally insensitive. And Vicente Fox knows this; he knows that half of America will never dare criticize anyone who speaks another language. So he pushes his poor our way, knowing we good liberals will only rise and applaud.

—Po Bronson is the author of What Should I Do With My Life? and Why Do I Love These People? His website is