Could Migration be the Problem, Not the Solution?

David Stoll continues his research into the negative effects of migration from Central America to the United States with Children on the Border: Could Migration be the Problem, Not the Solution?

Meanwhile, in El Norte many Central Americans never achieve their financial goals. Nazario’s portrait of Enrique and his mother illustrates how migration has such disappointing returns that it compels further migration. In the U.S. Lourdes never is able to send home enough dollars for her children to escape poverty. Instead, her sojourn becomes a struggle to keep her head above water. As her son and other relatives come north to join her, their tribulations suggest that this kind of migration is a vicious cycle that worsens the problems it is supposed to solve.

The fundamental difficulty experienced by Lourdes, rarely acknowledged by migration advocates, is that the more newcomers arrive, the harder it is for them to find work. As low-wage labor markets become saturated, many immigrants find employment only in ethnic enclaves. Here they are employed by fellow immigrants at sub-legal wages which barely enable them to support themselves, let alone remit to their families. The repercussions are especially sharp for the intended beneficiaries back home. Having lost their most energetic breadwinners to the U.S., these families become heavily dependent on remittances. Any interruption in the flow of dollars makes them poorer than they were to begin with.

A second vicious cycle is the search for safety in the U.S. Researchers may never be able to get inside the most murderous gangs. But from survivors, we know that Central American gangs are based on intense admiration of American culture, or at least what passes for it in movies and music. Particularly admired are self-determination at an early age, consumption of sex, drugs and the latest electronics, and becoming a law unto yourself with a gun.

This is the love/hate affair that gave birth to Latino gangs in Los Angeles, and that has made them a model to emulate in Central America. Youth at the bottom of the social hierarchy are inundated with media depictions of flashy consumption but have no law-abiding means to attain it.

I’d like a bit more statistical evidence (obviously difficult to come by) but well worth the read.