Mexico-US Border Migration

Mexico is located south of the United States of America and borders with California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. It is the busiest land border crossing on the planet. Migration between the US and Mexico is heavily controlled and maintained, with militarised posts at the cities.

History of the border

The Mexico-US border has not always existed in its current form, notably the controls and restrictions have strengthened over the past decade. Regulation began in the sixteenth century when the area was claimed by the Spanish. The Spanish colonies expanded from Central America to what is northern California today. They created frontiers and settlements which we caused by, and caused in turn, migration and conflict.

In 1821 Mexico won independence from Spain. Its territory included most of what is today America’s West. But in the Mexican state of ‘Texas’, ideas of independence were brewing. In 1836 Americans revolted against their Mexican masters, and 209 persons made a stand at a mission station in San Antonio, at a place that became known as the Alamo. There they held a 13-day siege against 2200 Mexican soldiers, and lost the battle. The Battle of the Alamo is recognised as a key moment in the history of the border, the releasing of tension between the US and Mexico. The Mexican hold on Texas was to last only another 12 years and in 1846 the American government declared war on Mexico and claimed the likes of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California for their out. While Mexico was restricted to the south to the Rio Grande.

War re-made the border between the United States and Mexico.

However, war was not the only impact on the Mexico-US border, trade impacted the movement of goods, people and services throughout time. The Treaty of Guadalupe–Hidalgo (1848) sought to consolidate the border. The United States doubled its size by ascertaining the likes of New Mexico, Texas and more, and by contrast, Mexico lost half of its lands. As a result, 100,000 Mexicans became foreigners in what was previously their own country and they lost their rights to the land. Moreover, due to the shift in the border, people changed nationalities.

This was shortly preceded by the Gadsden Purchase (1853) where the United States’ Minister, James Gadsden, agreed to pay Mexico $10 million dollars for 45,000 square miles of desert. This was in order to build the transcontinental railway could push through to California, consolidating American gains and expanding trade from the Pacific ports – ignoring the traditional lands of the Native Americans.

Borders therefore are not stagnant or set, they are susceptible to change with big events. However, for the past 150 years the border has largely remained the same.

What border controls exist?

Before the treaties and land regulation, the border was porous and people and goods could move more freely. Currently there is for 1200 miles a river, the Rio Grande, which runs through it and provides a natural border between the two nations. The border is 2000 miles and in some parts is a metal barrier, wall, fencing and even a cattle gate. Border Agents use the latest and varied technology in order to prevent illegal migration, from helicopters, vessels and dogs.

The border control measures serve to regulate the flow of people more so, but as well as trade and goods. The San Diego/Tijuana port of entry will process about 65,000 cars and up to 30,000 pedestrians.  There are 43 Ports of Entry along the 2000 miles of the frontier, and this is regulated by border control. Some claim there are between 20 -30 ‘alien’ loads every weekday and a further 50-60 on weekends.  These loads are transporting illegal or undocumented migrants.

In recent years the ‘militarization’ of the border, aimed at preventing the flow of illegal migrants, has been gathering pace. In the ten years up to 2006, the federal government more than doubled the budget for Border Patrol from 3 billion to 6.7 billion dollars. As of 2012, the U.S. Border Patrol employed 21,394 agents.[9] The Mexican international border was patrolled by 18,516 of those agents. The United States has now mustered 40,000 Immigration and Border Patrol Agents to stop illegal migrants getting into the USA.

This is not to mention the border spot checks 70 miles into the States on all routes from the border to the major cities. These serve to ‘funnel’ in the exodus of people who are migrating, and to capture any ‘aliens’ who escaped the initial border checks. No longer just a border line, the area’s leading up to the border are also subject to checks and regulation.

So why is the border so busy?

The primary reason for the exodus of workers to the north of the border is largely due to pull and push factors;

Pull Factors

  • Promise of employment
  • Better pay to send back to relatives
  • Chance for a better living

Push Factors

  • Poverty, War and Revolution
  • Lack of jobs/ poorly paid jobs
  • Population increase

One of the largest contributions to migration is trade and employment opportunities.

During the 20th century migration from Mexico to the US became an issue for the developed nations. Suppressing fears of ‘invasion’ and the necessity for cheap, migrant labour the United States relaxed and then tightened border controls. In 1953 the US Government launched Operation Wetback, where 4 million migrants, largely farmers, were deported back to Mexico. However American firms wanted to exploit the cheap pool of labour across the border and wanted a means to export American capital in return for the import of finished goods for the domestic market.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 came as a response to these market demands. It also included Canada, so increased the trading market and capital. It was signed by both US and Mexican presidents. NAFTA stimulated trade, but also encouraged migration not only to the north of Mexico, but across the border. It made the borders seem smaller, and created exposure to new markets.

The Mexican government has greatly encouraged US trade to set up in Mexico, offering tax breaks, facilities, infrastructure and more to corporations. Many companies can produce and assemble goods much cheaper in Mexico than compared to the US states. The Mexican workers will make and assemble goods to then be re-exported via ‘border-jumper’ trucks to the US and Europe. These assembly plantations, known as ‘maquiladoras’, were intended to be mutually beneficial to both the US and Mexico.

However, it is more apparent that although the US domestic market has benefitted from the variety and efficiency of goods exported from Mexico, this is in stark contrast to the Mexican economy and living conditions of the workers. The Mexican economy has not benefitted as much as planned, and there is slum development on the north of the border to be closer to these plantations. As a result of the tax breaks and cheap labour, on the Mexican side, foreign companies have constructed more than 3000 transnational factories. As a result, a million people have moved north to the border area to take the jobs. Not to mention the amount of monies sent back to Mexico which seemingly sustains the population, the United States government estimated it was $14 billion that was repatriated back to Mexico by migrant workers in the US. Both markets exploit each other as the US corporations need cheap labour to meet the domestic demands, and Mexico is happy to supply these demands.

Along the Mexico–American border, the twin towns of San Diego/Tijuana, El Paso/Juárez and McAllen/Reynosa are among the fastest growing cities in the world. In the ten years from 1995 the population has doubled to 10 million. This is aided by the favela and slum developments in and around the cities. Delphi, an American-owned company, has 54 plants south of the border. Meanwhile LG Electronics will pay workers the equivalent of £4 per day for their work, where some shifts are from 6:15 to 15:45. Even though Mexico has the highest share in the world of children living below the poverty level, it has more billionaires than the United Kingdom.

What is being done about the border and migration?

Most Mexicans resent the strict border controls that they believe are denying them from the affluence and privileges of the US life. The border represents a barrier in fleeing poverty and for some, starvation and deprivation. Every year thousands of Mexicans cross the border, whether legally or otherwise.

The border itself has become militarized, and many migrants are now pressured to using new and inventive ways to get across the border. For many, the deserts of Mexico that join with Arizona are one way to reach the border. They try to get across the border through a variety of means, including crossing the desert where many perish. Between 1998 and 2004, it is estimated that more than 2000 men, women and children lost their lives, mainly from exposure and dehydration, attempting the crossing there.

Some feel that the militarised border controls have caused this as they channel migrants to take dangerous routes. A charity called ‘No More Deaths’ patrols the desert, no to discourage migration, but to help the migrants in need of aid travelling through the deserts.

How is globalisation creating tension?

With more companies exploiting the cheap labour force in Mexico, many people are moving to the north and working there. NAFTA may have stimulated trade, but it has encouraged migration. This has caused tensions with residents who face competition with jobs, but also the US (across the border). More and more people want to escape the poverty of Mexico and start anew in the US, but they have to get over the border first.

The influx of migrants in the US from Latino/ Mexican background has caused tensions with US citizens who believe their culture, traditions and society is undermined – dubbed the ‘Mexicanisation’ of America. In the US citizens feel threatened, culturally and socially, by what they feel is an invasion from Mexican and Latino decent communities. Migrants are also referred to as aliens, immigrants and foreigners to further de-humanise them.

One tradition that is now celebrated in parts of the states is The Blessing of the Animals, which some of the 27 million people of Mexican origin living in the States celebrate. It is globalisation and removing of barriers that have enabled a cultural mix and change in the sense of belonging. Migration has affected people’s sense of belonging, their culture and identity.

In response to migration however, the American government has strengthened the border’s function in controlling the flow of people, especially in the urban areas. The border is heavily patrolled and guarded. Although the border itself has not changed in the past century, it’s nature and function is evolving to meet the needs of the US citizens and a globalised world.

Challenging the ‘American Dream’

The American Dreams is a belief that anyone person can change their circumstances no matter what. They can be in the deepest delves of poverty and become a millionaire. This belief has been held since the migration of Europeans to the American continent. it was a belief to counter the class/ caste system of other nations like the UK which restricted people to particular classes in society.

Many migrants would like to pursue the American Dream, get land and work and earn like American citizens. However, the border is the biggest barrier in reaching this dream which has caused a lot of tension.

Some migrants believe the American Dream needs re-definition. The common dream amongst migrants to live without borders, and that Mexicans will be afforded the same rights as their US counterparts, rather than some ‘alien’ workforce large US corporations can exploit. Furthermore, the millions spent on border control will go to building schools, homes and amenities for people of all races, colours and creed.

For those you have successfully crossed the border and work in the US, they have become disillusioned. Many would not choose freely to work in the US for low pay and away from their families, if not for the lack of jobs in Mexico. Behind the Los Angeles–San Diego freeway is a squatter camp. There are more than 50 undocumented migrant workers who live there, working in California’s agricultural fruit industry. They face discrimination and exploitation on a daily basis and for many, they are simply working to earn and sustain their families far away.

Living between the border

The is also the people and towns that are between the US and Mexican border, within the desert confines. There are 25 Native American Nations in the border between Mexico and the United States. For many Native American tribes, they do not believe in borders, border controls or obeying federal government. The Gadsden Purchase separated tribes, where some now inhabited Mexico and what was considered the US. This causes tension, distrust and division amongst the indigenous tribes.

The Tohono O’Odham nation located in the Sonoran Desert in south central Arizona is one such place where the Native American rites and values were disregarded a confined in a reservation decided over a century ago. It has its own facilities, but limited funding. Members of the nation cross the border every day and many residents do not recognise the border as a legitimate boundary. In regards to relations of the border, the Tohono O’Odham nation has never been consulted even though they are next to it.

For the many who live along this junction between two countries, globalisation has brought both new problems and also new opportunities. It is likened by residents to be a third nation, torn between two cultures which have merged in the centre. The unique community, who work in and around San Diego believe it is a real cultural mix.

The imaginary border

The border itself is not clearly defined and with many from the south having resentment towards it, and those in the north wanting to consolidate it, the border is always going to be a controversial topic. The Native Americans on the reservation do not recognise its legitimacy, and likewise the Mexicans believe they are being denied their right to be free from poverty, like the American Dream.

Although the border is a thin line, it is made to be this large chasm between the two nations. It is heavily guarded and patrolled on the daily basis. This border is a daily reminder for the many millions of people who live here that they exist at a junction between worlds of poverty and plenty. It creates a sense of proximity being some metres in width, but seem so much more than the width of a fence or wall.

Every day people’s experience of proximity and distance is illustrated along the international border between Mexico and the United States. More than 2 million people set out to cross this barrier between the two territories each year. 200,000 cross legally, but over 1.5 million are turned back or arrested at the frontier by Immigration and Border Patrol demonstrating the sheer amount of people who are eager to move.

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