Dealing with the Causes: Mexico's Economic Policy and Migration

Exploring the fundamental connection between the state of Mexico’s economy and its high rate of migration to the United States.

Mexican emigration into the United States remains a contentious topic, a source of friction, and a lasting negative influence on Mexico’s economic development. The main reason why Mexicans emigrate to the United States is to improve their economic situation. Other motives exist, such as kinship relations in the destination city, but if the disparities in income opportunities were lower between the two countries, this would override kinship relations. This is what happened in the recent past in emigration from Italy and Spain. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that reducing the level of Mexican immigration into the United States requires higher economic growth in Mexico. It would not be necessary to reach full income equality for emigration to diminish—the income level in Spain did not reach that in France when Spanish emigration slowed—but a substantial narrowing of the gap is necessary. In addition, many more Mexicans are likely stay home if convinced that income improvement will continue.

Current policy debates suffer, however, from a lack of understanding of the deeper economic equation that drives emigration from Mexico, rooted in the structural weaknesses of the Mexican economy.  This project will address this gap and develop recommendations for more effective and harmonious strategies by Mexico and the United States to address these economic dimensions.

The project was kicked-off by a full-day conference with panelists from Mexico and the United States. High-level policymakers will continue to comment at CSIS on the issue of economics and migration in Mexico throughout the project.

This project is made possible by the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.