Science - June 1, 2006

In the News / Mexican migration to the US

Last week, the US House of Representatives voted to build a six hundred-kilometre wall along its border with Mexico to stem the flow of illegal Mexican labour immigrants. ‘No matter how high the wall is, the Mexicans will jump over it,’ joked one of the candidates in the Mexican presidential elections recently. According to Mexican MSc student Erandi Valdovinos, this is a statement that indicates the need for a Mexican policy that takes care of its people instead of driving them away.

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Valdovinos is doing his MSc in Organic Agriculture. He’s been in Wageningen for eighteen months now, and is currently finishing up his thesis on alternatives forms of commercialisation. His main aim is to make a contribution to the development of his country. Although he says with a laugh that he misses ‘everything’ in Mexico, he appreciates the quality of life in Holland. ‘You can go somewhere and be certain that nothing is going to happen.’

Although Valdovinos considers the proposed wall against migration an unethical measure for a country that originates from immigrants, in his opinion the problem of labour migration is basically a Mexican problem. ‘Like people all over the world, we Mexicans are always complaining about the Americans, but when it comes down to it, we do need them. There is a lot of money in Mexico but the differences in income are too big. The problem is income distribution. Mexico is largely a rural country and life in the rural areas especially is hard.

‘Most of the people in rural Mexico grow up with the idea that the standard of living in the United States is much better than the harsh conditions at home. And indeed if you earn ten dollars a day in rural Mexico, in the US you might be able to earn the same amount of money in one hour. Although many people still stay in Mexico, most young people with little education live with the idea of crossing the border at least once. And so currently twenty million people of Mexican origin are working legally and illegally in the US. Whole towns in Mexico have been abandoned by the working population, leaving the old people to spend the sixteen billion dollars that is sent home each year by the migrants.’

Hence Valdovinos thinks that the migration is basically a development problem in Mexico itself. Mexico does not offer the same economic possibilities as the US because of the lack of trust and social opportunities. ‘For example, there is no common objective that unites the people to work towards. Most people’s idea is first me and my family, and then maybe the development of my country.

‘On top of that there is also little trust in the political arena, and there is a lot of corruption in Mexico. Although many politicians promise jobs to the poor, little is actually being done to improve the situation. And there are few policies that really take care of the people. For example, although we are a maize-producing country, Mexico imports cheap maize from America – a trade policy that might be an advantage to the US, but definitely not to the peasants who just lose another incentive to stay in Mexico.

‘In the end the Mexican government will have to create a system that supports its citizens with things like technology, trade and better education. Only then will social welfare grow and there will be less reason to cross the border. These developments go slowly in Mexico, and although that I don’t think that any of the candidates in the coming elections on July 2 are good enough to meet the demands, the fact that after 70 years of dictatorship we now have democracy gives me hope. Things are changing.’ / Martijn Vink