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Is Mexico's economy really driving down illegal immigration to the US?

A big drop in illegal immigration seems to be taking place along the US-Mexico border. Some attribute this to rising prosperity in Mexico, but other more influential factors are in play.

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But while stiffer immigration laws such as the “Secure Communities” initiative are doubtlessly contributing to the reduction in undocumented immigration, several recent reports have suggested that the primary reason for the drop is the drug war in Mexico. According to the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies’ director David Fitzgerald, the violence has become so great that potential migrants are no longer interested in risking their lives to make the trip. In a recent interview with Spanish news agency EFE, Mr. Fitzgerald claimed that surveys of migrant source communities in the states of Jalisco, Oaxaca, and Yucatan reveal that the top concern among Mexican migrants is the level of violence along the border.

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Fitzgerald’s remarks come just days after Salvador Beltran del Rio, the director of Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM), told local press that there had been an estimated reduction of nearly 70 percent·in the number of Central American migrants passing through the country in the past five years. Mr. Beltran’s estimate is based on the number of foreign migrants detained in Mexico, which has fallen from 433,000 in 2005 to 140,000 last year.

According to the official, this drop in Central Americans using Mexico as their gateway to the US is due to the threat from organized crime. Mexican drug trafficking organizations have become increasingly involved in migrant trafficking. Out of every 10 migrants who attempt to go northward, according to Beltran, six employ a “coyote,” who they pay to transport them across the US border. As InSight Crime has reported, these middlemen are increasingly in the service of the cartels, and frequently extort or kidnap the migrants, killing those who refuse to cooperate. Such was the fate of 72 Central American migrants in August 2010, who were found buried in a mass grave in the northern state of Tamaulipas. Sometimes the migrants are coerced into working for the cartels in order to pay for their passage, as evidenced by the recent discovery of 61 migrants who had been held in forced labor by the Zetas in Piedras Negras, Coahuila. With incidents such as these reported regularly along the border, it is no wonder that the incentive to travel al norte has reduced.

--- Geoffrey Ramsey is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of his research here.

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