Mexican Migration to the United States: Policy and Trends

Source: Marc R. Rosenblum, William A. Kandel, Clare Ribando Seelke, Ruth Ellen Wasem, Congressional Research Service, R42560, June 7, 2012

Mexico’s role in the U.S. immigration system, along with the importance of the bilateral relationship to both countries, creates a number of opportunities, and challenges, as Congress weighs changes to U.S. immigration policy. First, Mexico already plays a key role in U.S. immigration enforcement and border security. The United States and Mexico share information about transnational threats, Mexico combats illegal migration by third country nationals, and Mexico supports certain U.S. enforcement efforts related to the repatriation of Mexican nationals. This report explores possibilities for additional bilateralism in these areas, including strategies to reduce recidivism among illegal migrants and to better manage U.S.-Mexican ports of entry.

Second, with respect to lawful permanent immigration, Mexico benefits from rules that favor family-based flows, but still dominates the waiting lists of people with approved immigration petitions for whom visas have not yet been made available. The analysis here focuses attention on recent proposals to reduce visa backlogs and on other reforms that could affect the number of immigrant visas for Mexico.

Third, Mexico dominates temporary visa categories for low-skilled workers, and an increasing number of Mexicans could also qualify for high-skilled worker visas. The report reviews previous experience with Mexico-specific temporary worker programs, which offer mixed lessons about managing flows this way.

Additional policy considerations concern potential legalization proposals and efforts to reduce unauthorized emigration from Mexico. Given the large number of unauthorized Mexican migrants in the United States, Mexico could play a role in a potential legalization program, including by providing information to verify migrants’ identities and by facilitating proposed “touch-back” requirements. Finally, in the long run, economic development and employment creation in Mexico are widely viewed as being among the best tools to reduce unauthorized emigration. While demographic and economic trends in Mexico likely have already contributed to reduced illegal outflows, the relationship between international trade and financial flows, U.S. economic assistance, and economic opportunities in Mexico may represent promising areas for policies to reduce illegal migration in the future.

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