Between 1990 and 2007, the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States more than tripled to 12.2 million. According to a recent study the trend is reversing, the illegal immigrant population has fallen to 10.9 million. About six million of the total originated from Mexico. A combination of factors including tighter border controls, the Great Recession, improving economic conditions in Mexico and a declining Mexican birth rate contributed to the change. Arizona’s undocumented population dropped seven percent between 2010 and 2014 to approximately 277,000.
In the muddled realm of immigration law enforcement, it appears that the major contribution made by Arizona’s SB 1070 law was to tarnish the state’s reputation. Despite the continual calls for improved border security and immigration reform, Congress has managed to artfully dodge the issue. In June 2013, the U.S. Senate passed a massive comprehensive immigration reform bill that included additional border security measures (Senators McCain and Flake voted for it) and sent it to House of Representatives. The obstinate House conservatives failed to act, preferring to let the matter become another victim of congressional gridlock.
Arizona’s mostly unheralded exporters shipped $22.5 billion worth of merchandise to foreign markets in 2015. The leading destinations were Mexico ($9.1 billion), Canada ($2.2 billion), China ($1.2 billion), the United Kingdom ($1.0 billion) and Germany ($832.9 million). Arizona ranked 4th among the states making shipments to Mexico in 2015, behind Texas ($94.5 billion), California $26.8 billion) and Michigan ($11.1 billion).
Due to the secretive nature of the unlawful venture, estimates vary widely regarding the dollar value of the U.S. illegal drug trade. It is estimated that American drug users spend $100 billion annually on cocaine (including crack), heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine (meth). Unintentional drug overdose has become a growing problem among America’s 2.2 million opioid addicts. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, over 28,000 Americans died from heroin and painkiller overdoses in 2014.
The American thirst for illegal narcotics has had a deleterious effect on Mexico because the drug cartels servicing the American market have located many of their operations in the country. It was a good place to set up shop because Mexico has a corruption problem and a record of extremely poor policing. Running for political office in Mexico’s lawless environment is a deadly endeavor. During the mid-term elections of June 2015, seven candidates were killed, another 70 were attacked.
According to the National Federation of Municipalities, 40 Mexican mayors have been murdered during the past eight years. Last January, the woman who was elected mayor of Temixco was assassinated in her home one day after her inauguration. She had vowed to fight drug trafficking and advocated the state taking over local policing functions. The drug cartels know that when a mayor is killed, the next mayor will be much less inclined to interfere. Several mayors of towns in northern Mexico are afraid to show up for work. They reside in places where drugs are routed to the United States. The competition among drug cartels is lethal, along with government enforcement efforts, it has resulted in over 150,000 deaths since 2006.
Despite the severe problems related to the drug trade, change is coming to Mexico. The country’s economy is now considered to be among the least restrictive in the world. Mexico’s economy is expected to grow 2.5% in 2016, surpassing America’s projected economic growth rate of 2.0%. President Nieto’s administration has a batch of reforms in slowly moving through the works, including reform of Pemex, the government’s stodgy oil monopoly that provides 35% of government revenues. Mexico’s middle class has grown to an estimated 30%-40% of the population. Mexico’s people have a surprisingly positive view of the future, 77% say they are optimistic while only 6% are very pessimistic.
Despite the progress, Mexico remains one of the world’s most unequal societies. About half of its population remains poor. The country is plagued by crime and corruption. So far in 2016, four journalists have been murdered. With over 95% of crimes never solved, Mexico’s resolution rate does little to discourage criminality. The law allowing the federal government to take over local governments controlled by organized crime is stalled in the Mexican Congress. Also held up by political squabbling is a law that would bring Mexico’s 1,800 local police forces under the control of the country’s 32 state governments.
If President Nieto’s administration is to permanently entrench the rule of law, corrupt politicians as well as criminals have to be brought to account. The country’s poor health and education systems still need to be improved. Mexico has to provide opportunities for the poor to move up the ladder of success. Removing the impediments hindering the growth of Mexico’s many small, inefficient firms would be a step in the right direction.