Home again in Mexico: Illegal immigration hits net zero
Tiny Tamaula is the new face of rural Mexico: Villagers are home again as the illegal immigration boom drops to net zero
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No such opportunities – nor the mind-set that goes with them – existed when Jorge was finishing up elementary school in the 1990s. Migration was the fastest ticket to social mobility, not school. So by the time he turned 15 it was logical – even expected – that he go north.Skip to next paragraph
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Now, beyond changes in infrastructure, his hometown's attitude is different. His younger sister is in university, studying psychology, and his 17-year-old brother, Juan, is in high school studying computing.
Going north is inconceivable to Juan: "My friends and I don't talk about the 'American dream.' In that sense the mentality has changed. Instead we talk about opening up a restaurant here, or doing something different."
Jorge, too, harbors dreams of establishing an enterprise in Tamaula "to support my family and not be so dependent on the US."
Seven kids no longer the family norm
Tamaula is not an anomaly: Like other towns across Mexico, it has been buoyed by the nation's overall positive economic, educational, and demographic currents.
"People are recovering the hope that they can stay in their own communities and don't see going to the US as their only opportunity," observes Adriana Cortes, who runs the Community Foundation of the Bajio.
The high school here in Tamaula is one of hundreds built with federal funds nationwide in the past five years as enrollment rates have gone up from 54 percent in 1991 to 87 percent in 2009 for secondary school. Higher education enrollment rose from 15 percent to 27 percent in that same period, according to UNESCO.
Although quality lags behind other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, test scores have improved and dropout rates are down.
"They have made sure there are teachers everywhere. They may not be the best teachers in the world, but there are schools everywhere. They have done the right thing at the very basic level," says Harry Patrinos, lead education economist at the World Bank.
Fertility rates have also dropped precipitously in the past half century. Women had, on average, nearly seven children in 1960; today the average is slightly more than two, according to the UN Population Division.
That, say demographers and economists, will deflate labor supply to the US in the future. But more immediately it means that more wealth is spread over fewer family members, in effect raising incomes and allowing families to invest more in their children's social mobility.
Mexico has transformed from a relatively poor country to one that is largely "middle class" in attitude and consumption, reports Luis Rubio in "Mexico: A Middle Class Society," which he co-wrote. The report links this, among other factors, to fertility rates, trade openness to cheap imports, and new access to credit. "That is why there are so many Wal-Marts everywhere," Mr. Rubio says.
But another factor that has helped reduce poverty is remittances. Migrants abroad sent $21.27 billion back home in 2010, according to Mexico's central bank. And while Mexico has long developed programs to take advantage of such resources, with its 3-for-1 program, for example, which matches funds sent back to communities for local development, it is not prepared for a sustained change in migration patterns, says Rodolfo Zamora Garcia, an economist in Zacatecas State who studies migration and remittances.