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"Trump does not put his initiatives into action, but he has created a tense situation"
The policies announced by President of the United States Donald Trump have placed migrations from Mexico to the US at the centre of current events. Silvia Elena Giorguli visited the UAB to give a conference on this subject at the Centre for Demographic Studies.
Silvia Elena Giorguli is professor and researcher at the Centro de Estudios Demográficos, Urbanos y Ambientales-CEDUA of the Colegio de México (COLMEX). Giorguli is also the first woman president of COLMEX, a position she occupies since 2015. On 18 September she offered a conference on new migratory scenes, entitled "¿Hacia un nuevo escenario migratorio en México? Retos y reflexiones" at the UAB Centre for Demographic Studies.
What evolution has the Mexican population undergone in the past few years?
The particularity of the Mexican migratory system, when compared to other Latin American magrations, is that the United States is almost the only migration destination: over 90% of migratory flows go north. The history of Mexican migration is in reality the history of a relationship between Mexico and the United States. It has been evolving for the past 100 years; it began as a work migration related to the need for workers to build the railway. First, the workers came from a very specific region of the country, and then they came from throughout Mexico. Now, practically all Mexican municipalities have citizens working in America. And there, Mexican migration is concentrated in three points: California, Texas and Illinois. Although there has been a diversification of places in the past decades.
Is Mexico a country with more emigrants than immigrants?
Mexico is now experiencing something never before seen: a zero balance, or close to zero, which is something we have not seen since the 1930s with the Great Depression, when a large number of Mexicans were deported. If we take into account the fall in emigrants, around 140,000 people a year, and the Mexicans who are returning with their children, we have an almost exact balance. But zero balance does not mean there is no migration: there is still a great number of people moving because, if you add those who leave and those who come back, there are almost 300,000 people who are changing their residency each year, from one country to another.
What does the money sent by Mexicans abroad represent for the Mexican economy?
The money received from abroad continues to be a very important source of income for the country and it continues to be the main source of income for many families. But two things have happened. One is that people have left Mexico with their families and with no intention of returning. A total of 80% of Mexicans living in the United States have been there for more than ten years and it is highly probable that their whole family is there. The ties become weaker and therefore it is normal that less money is sent. The second factor is that since 2007 and 2008, the economic crisis was very hard on Mexicans working in the US. And now Trump is threatening with this idea of taxing the sending of money. Therefore, it is uncertain whether that money can prevent families from sinking into poverty. We should consider it something temporary and not as a life strategy.
Have the policies and declarations made by Donald Trump had an effect on the migratory flows of Mexicans into the United States?
The change began to become clear in 2008. That means that it was not caused by Trump: the fall in migration due to economic policies and anti-immigration policies such as border control and deportations is from the Obama era. Trump is very little effective in materialising his initiatives, but he has created a tense situation and made even more vulnerable those who were already in a vulnerable situation. If we analyse the case of Arizona, the effect of actions such as racial arrests or having people such as Sheriff Arpaio represent a loss in the quality of life: people are afraid to go out, to use medical services, to report injustices such as robberies or a violation of working rights... This tense situation affects Mexicans in general, but it also affects American citizens. There are many mixed families in which the children are American citizens, but the parents are illegal immigrants.
And what does the migratory flow on its southern border represent for Mexico?
It is a great challenge at many levels. At the national political level, it means being able to apply the same discourse at home as we demand for Mexicans abroad. And it implies building institutions which can effectively implement measures that reduce corruption and the violation of human rights. Not only is it that migrants from Central America are more exposed to organised crime; in many cases it is also the governmental institutions of Mexico which are involved in this corruption. It is something we have not yet resolved despite all of the good intentions of some programmes and legal initiatives. At local level it also implies the need for gerater congruency and acceptance of what is different, because there is a lot of discrimination against Central America. Fortunately, there is a growing need to talk about discrimination in Mexico; this is necessary to create a consciousness and adopt new measures.
Finally, as president of the Colegio de México, what future challenges do you consider the institution will face?
The challenge lies in maintaining COLMEX within the areas which traditionally have made it the extraordinary institution it is: its studies into the history of Mexico, in the linguistics of Mexican Spanish, in international studies, social sciences and the humanities in general. The Colegio is currently undergoing a very particular period internally. Ten years ago, a highly assertive retirement programme was put into practice and it has been a success. The Colegio includes 180 teaching staff members and 60 of them have retired in the past decade. We must take advantage of this generation renewal in order to review our agenda and methodologies. The other great challenge is related to the digital transition: making use of what exists in digital resources and in the form of knowledge transfer.
Centre for Demographic Studies