Mexican immigration and the Open Border: Mexicans Go Home and Mexican Kindness

I just returned from a two-plus weeks stay in Mexico for the second time in less than five months. A couple of comments to add to my previous essay on Mexican underdevelopment. Plus, some unrelated political sociology comments.

In 2009, my friend and I published a long piece on Mexican emigration to the US in the libertarian periodical The Independent Review. (Nikiforov and I are both immigrants to the United States.) The article is entitled, “If Mexicans and Americans Could Cross the Border Freely (pdf),” and the full text is available through a link on this blog. In that article, we argued that we would all be better off if the southern American border were open to crossing by citizens of both countries with no expectation of a change in citizenship for either.

Well, the politicians did not listen to us then and their inattention led to the recent Republican fiasco whereas, President Obama used an executive order to more or less legalize five million illegal aliens, most of them Mexicans whereas, the Republican Senate called him out and ended up caving piteously. (Do you remember or have you already forgotten? Stupidly, Republicans tried to use the threat to de-fund Homeland Security at a time when aggravated terrorism news fill the airwaves.) As often happens, the Republican leadership confused the issue of constitutional principle with the substantive issue of limiting immigration. Myself, I would chose total firmness on the first and flexibility on the second, for fear of ending up the A.H., no matter what the outcome. The Republican leadership lost the constitutional arm wrestling and still ended up the A. H. Congratulations, guys!

Our article was long and intricate as is normal for a scholarly piece. Here are two highlights from that piece on which I wish to comment after my two recent stays in Mexico:

A We argued that Mexicans – who constitute the largest immigrant group to the US – should be given special treatment over other aliens. Several reasons for this: They are our close neighbors; they have been joined to us through NAFTA for now 23 years, insuring that our lives are tightly enmeshed economically. Then, because of a long series of past interactions some may find deplorable, Mexicans tend to make very good immigrants. Two reasons for this superiority, in turn. First, nearly everyone agree that Mexicans (in the US) tend to be very hard workers. Even their direct competitors in the work place tend to assent to this judgment. Second, sociologically, Mexicans make good immigrants because they are astonishingly familiar with our society, including with our institutions, before they set foot on American soil. In particular, Mexicans don’t find perplexing our fundamental constitutional principle of separation of religion and government. (That’s, as opposed to immigrants from other areas I could name.)

Nikiforov and I argued that Mexican citizens should enjoy unimpeded passage into the US, and the freedom to take any job for which they qualify, all without any path to American citizenship because, Mexicans already have a citizenship, that of Mexico. We point out that the European Union has used this model for more than twenty years and experienced few downsides. (The current ferment in Europe about and opposition to immigration does not involve neighbors from the EU, with one single exception I will discuss if someone asks me.)

B We proposed that many Americans would find it comfortable to spend their last years in Mexico because of a specific aspect of Mexican culture, to wit, contemporary Mexicans tend to be sweet in general and considerate to older people in particular.

This is what I found in twice two and half weeks in Puerto Vallarta in the pas five months that is relevant to these issues.

First, on the matter of Mexicans wanting to work in the US but not necessarily wishing to live there, we were much more right than we thought when we wrote about this. The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming that this would work. Everywhere I went in Puerto Vallarta , I bumped into people who knew some English that they had learned in the US, mostly as illegal immigrants here working at undesirable jobs. None of those people had been expelled, deported. All had returned to Mexico under their own power after saving some money. Thus, they had chosen to go home because it’s home, just as we predicted in the article.

One middle-aged man sticks to my mind, a taxi driver. He had stayed in the US (illegally) for several years. He had refrained from visiting with his family in Mexico for stretches of two or three years at a time to avoid being unable to return to the US. You might say that he was trapped in the US for longer periods than he wished because of our immigration laws. He finally decided to go back to Mexico and to his family for good after he had saved enough money to build a house for each of his three daughters. He specified that only one of the daughters was of marriageable age by the time he had the three houses standing. To my mind, this is an exemplary story of emigration/immigration. On my query, the man declared himself satisfied with his choice and with his life since his return from the US.

He was earning, driving a taxi, about 1/5 or less of what he earned in the US doing unpleasant work. He liked his job; he enjoyed returning to his family every evening; he liked the schools; paradoxically, he liked Mexican schools. (This is paradoxical because daily life in Puerto Vallarta, including in the schools is much more relaxed, much more genteel than what prevails in the US except in the most elite neighborhoods. In that part of Mexico, the bloody drug traffic-based blood-thirsty banditry is found strictly in the newspapers. It is not at all apparent in daily life. The quality of this daily life is at the antipodes of the impression of Mexico reaching us through the US media. Gangs are not in the school unlike in Salinas, California, for example.)

On point B, the attractiveness of Mexico to older Americans, I find that I tend to censor myself anytime I write about the topic because I fear appearing to be gushing like a teenage girl. During my last stay, of two and half weeks, I did not meet a single Mexican man, woman or child who was not completely pleasant except two. One was a taxi driver and he was morose but, that’s because he was drunk. (Nobody is perfect.) The second was a female merchant who acted displeased because I tried to bargain down an item in which I was interested. Another merchant – from whom I actually bought and whom I befriended – told me later that my bargaining had been reasonable and that the woman was undergoing a painful divorce. Mexico is not perfect and I may have looked like the woman’s soon-to-be ex-husband. You never know; these things happen.

Absolutely everywhere, my gray beard drew the kind of respectful behavior I don’t expect in the US. (And that I don’t deserve, to be honest!)

I can hear the snickering from here: “Of course, he stays in a tourist ghetto were everyone is occupationally obligated to appear nice.” No, I did not spend all my time there; I was forced to go out and I liked to go out. I found that everyone smiles a lot, including at each other, even among perfect strangers, that everybody ceded passage, that waiting lines are always orderly. Being a formerly great social scientist, I yielded, of course, to the temptation to conduct verbal experiment. Unfailingly, I made everyone I wanted to laugh at the drop of a hat. I mean small children, old ladies and adults of all sexes. (Yes, my Spanish is that good. Eat your heart out or learn to conjugate irregular verbs! Those are your choices. There are no others.)

Issue A and B are joined in the strangest way within my latest short stay in Mexico. Puerto Vallarta in the winter is swarming with Canadians. Their flight from the cold may have a great deal to do with this fact but it has a virtuous side-effect. I suspect many flew in to warm up and ended up warmly loving Mexicans for the reasons I depicted above. They beat Americans at it, in that city, at least. Oh, and the only sullen faces around Puerto Vallarta all belong to them. It became a game of pop-sociology for me: guessing from afar who was American and who was Canadian. It soon become embarrassingly easy: The Americans are the loud ones who say hello and who laugh easily. (Besides, I think the presence of Canadians explains much of the bad food there.)

After this last experience, I am very tempted to start a new racist fad: Speaking ill of and persecuting Canadians. It could be fun and they are not (yet) a federally protected minority.

How to Rebut the Condescending Leftist

Economist Bryan Caplan, in responding to calls for more to be done by governments for the world’s poor, writes the following:

Isn’t the entire problem that the world’s poor have little of value to sell on the world market? The answer, surprisingly, is no. The world’s poor have a very valuable good to sell: their labor. Though Third World workers often earn a dollar or two a day, even unskilled labor is worth $10-$15,000 per year on the world market.

There’s just one problem: First World governments’ immigration policies effectively forbid international trade in labor. The world’s poor cannot legally work in a First World country without that government’s permission. For most current residents of the Third World, this permission is almost impossible to obtain. If you’re an unskilled worker with no relatives in the First World, you have to endure Third World poverty, win the immigration lottery, or break the law.

Do read the whole thing. It’s from the recent Cato Unbound symposium on “Authority, Obedience and the State.” The Cato Institute is probably one of three think tanks that actually puts out work I can count on (the other two being Brookings and Hoover). Their monthly Cato Unbound is one of the best symposiums on the web.

Dr. Delacroix has written on immigration before. Here is a piece he produced for the Independent Review. Here are his blog posts on immigration.

Why Blog?

Blogging is very time consuming. It’s cutting seriously into the life of leisure for which I am so obviously gifted. I am certainly not trying to achieve fame. I renounced that particular kind of folly many years ago: It’s not worth it because you are likely to fail. It’s not even worth it when you succeed according to many tabloid stories.

I can’t even say I am terribly successful in terms of effect achieved.

Only 26 people at most read my most recent ambitious posting, “Fascism Explained”. Writing it took me the better part of two or three half-days. Its sequel, “How about Communism?” captured only a little less of my free time and it was read by the same small number of people at best.

My two biggest hits ever, “The Inauguration; the Hamas Victory” and “Advice to Pres. Obama on Manhood” were each read by 56 people maximum.

Why am I alienating my free time that way? Why this fairly futile effort on my part? I could be on my pretty boat on Monterey Bay catching suicidal and cognitively challenged fish. Or, I could simply be reading one of the books I have been wanting to read for weeks. I might even rub my wife’s feet instead. (She is a talented artist and a conservative who thinks Attila the Hun was kind of a girlie man. The only thing that reaches her nowadays is hard foot massaging.)

There is an answer to this multiply-worded single question above:  Continue reading


This is a story about Mexicans but before I get to the topic, I need to make small political commentaries.

Most of the time, I abstain from describing myself as a libertarian for several reasons. One is the current and recent libertarian leadership that I can’t stomach. Another, possibly more durable set of reasons for my reluctance is that I am keenly aware of the contradictions between some of my positions and because some of my positions are incompatible with fundamental libertarianism. Incidentally, I am not the only libertarian (small “l”) with such contradictions in his heart; I just have the great merit of being aware of the fact. (If I say so myself.)

One of my un-libertarian positions consists in repeating without hesitation that every national society has a moral right to control its borders. We can’t just have different kinds of people bringing unchecked into this society their habitual laziness, for example, or their propensity to disorder, and worse, their concept of order, or again, their ethical idea of the proper relationship between religion and government. (Feel free to put national names and other stickers on each of these four categories.) The fact that I am an immigrant does not make me more mindlessly “tolerant” on such issues. On the contrary, I believe I am better able than most native-born Americans (or than all of them) to judge that those who live in this society, such as it is, are exceptionally lucky. Not that it’s that hard to figure out, at any rate. Poor people from everywhere want to move here but also many prosperous people from prosperous countries. Millions have voted with their feet. Even more millions are trying to, many at great cost to their safety.

Among the latter, of course, are many Mexican nationals. I have argued elsewhere (pdf), in the Independent Review, that the Mexicans should be given special treatment by American immigration laws. With my co-author, fellow immigrant Sergey Nikiforov, I have argued that the key to an overall solution to the problem posed by Mexican illegal immigration specifically lies in the separation of freedom of movement from citizenship. This, for both Mexicans and Americans. I also argued, in that article, that Mexicans, our next door neighbors, should receive special treatment, privileged treatment, treatment over and better than that we extend to other foreigners. And no, it is not the case that “foreign” is a dirty word. And, as some wit remarked years ago, about the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs, and I wish it had been me: “If they want to have affairs, they can damn well have them at home!”

Not much more than a couple of years after our article was researched and prepared, we learn that net illegal Mexican immigration into this country probably approximates zero. (That’s illegal Mexicans coming in minus illegal Mexicans leaving the US.) The current worldwide and American economic crisis is of course a sufficient explanation for both changes, for the decrease in comings and for the increase in goings of Mexican illegals. Incidentally, the fact that illegals are leaving in large numbers pretty much gives the lie to the idea, lamentably common in conservative circles, that they cross the border mostly to take advantage of our social services. In this country recently, jobs have dried up while social services have expanded but Mexican illegals are still leaving. Ergo, they were not here for social services but for jobs. As Nikiforov and I argued all along, they come to work. Since they are mostly young, while they are in the US, many also commit crimes, as the young tend to do everywhere, and many mate and have children, as young adults do everywhere. All this criminal activity and all this productive mating places a burden on social services of course. It’s a normal burden, not the parasitic blood-sucking in some conservatives’ nightmares. If all works well, some of those Mexican illegals, or many, stay here, they pay taxes here for a long time and they support my adult children later with their Social Security contributions.

Notwithstanding the sufficiency of the economic crisis explanation, there is an alternative explanation to the quick reduction in the in- flows of Mexican nationals across our southern border. Or rather, there are two explanations that combine to produce this decrease, aside from, independent of, the American economic crisis. First, Mexican fertility rates have declined precipitously to the point that they now approximate American rates. On the average, Mexicans have only slightly more children than do Americans and the trend is downward. Secondly, after many years of severe economic trouble, Mexico is finally achieving the kind of economic growth that is considered normal at its moderate level of development. The latter is of course systematically higher than American economic growth. After a severe contraction in 2009, Mexico achieved a mean GDP growth of 4.2 for the past three years, 2012 included, against 2.2 for the US.

Now, I want to evoke a subjective side of Mexican immigration. Namely, I want to assert that Mexicans make very good immigrants to this country (This, even if like most immigrants in the past, they tend to vote Democratic at first.) And then, I make the specific claim that Mexicans, illegals as well as legal immigrants, contribute a high degree of graciousness to American culture, a culture produced largely by the grandchildren of the English, Germans, Irish, Poles, and Slovaks. (See what I mean?)

Here are some reminders about Mexicans in the US:

Mexicans work hard. Everyone agrees on this even those who suffer most from their presence as job competitors. Unlike some European immigrants for example, they don’t ask for directions to the welfare office a couple of days after they arrive. They come from a work-oriented culture, like American culture used to be many years ago.

Very poor Mexicans are more socially acceptable, less socially disruptive than equally poor native-born Americans. There are Mexican “homeless” encampments on my river. You never hear about them. You would have to know they are there. You can’t say the same of Anglo homeless squatters in Santa Cruz. (Some kill people, not many, just some.)

Mexican immigrants arrive here well informed about American institutions, about American culture, about American habits.

Mexicans immigrants come from a country rent and terrorized by the blowback of our war on drugs. Yet, they have the good grace never to mention here that we are nearly entirely responsible for the horrors their country has to suffer on account of our stupid policies. I mean, of course, that if the US announced the legalization of all drugs, the massacres, the beheadings, the cutting off of hands and feet would stop in Mexico within weeks or days. I am simply assuming that making the supply of a product in high demand illegal is certain to make the product prodigiously profitable. Hence the bloody turf wars among Mexican suppliers. Legalize or ignore drugs; let the price of marijuana drop to where it belongs, somewhere between the prices of tobacco and of carrots. The massacre in Mexico will stop.

Mexicans are also courteous and endlessly gracious, in my considerable and lengthy experience. Below are three illustrations.

There is an old-style diner I frequent about once a week for breakfast. (I have immortalized it in a story: “Radio Free Santa Cruz” published in le libertarian periodical Liberty.) I go there often, usually thrown out of bed by the insomnia that plagues the aged who feel guilty for old but good reasons they may not want to go into publicly lest they be charged with bragging. The same crew of two Mexicans is always in the kitchen. It’s an open kitchen. You can see them and you can hear everything they say. No matter how early I get there, I find these two guys guffawing and joking loudly. That’s often in the middle of breakfast rush-hour. This is worth commenting on because, the world over, cooks are given a pass for being assholes at the height of their rush-hour. The rule does not apply to Mexican cooks. If you don’t believe me lend an ear next time you are in a cheap restaurant. In California, that’s an easy study because all cooks in such restaurants are Mexicans, have been for ten years or more. (Some are legal immigrants!)

One slow day, my wife and I enter a small Mexican-owned shop on the edge of town. My wife is from India. She is looking for tropical fruit that are still uncommon in mainstream grocery stores, in the years right after the signing of NAFTA. Her attention gets drawn to a cinenovela being played on a TV set hanging from the shop ceiling. Observing that she is craning her neck, the young man behind the counter brings a box for her to stand on. His buddy who has been hanging out in the shop with him approaches and offers my wife his hand to help her climb on the box. The guy has dark skin and very short hair. He appears to be somewhat over twenty-five. Intricate tattoos sally forth from the neck opening of his shirt and climb all over his neck in thick masses and then curl into the external faces of both his ears. There is only one place in the world where you can afford the time and the expense of such dense tattoo-art: prison. The thought imposes itself on me inexorably: This young Mexican jailbird is much better bred than all the white middle-class young of the same age we know. Of course, I will be accused by the pedantly naïve of “generalizing.” Not so; as soon as you open your eyes a little, you will observe that, in California, people with Spanish last names and skin a shade darker than average are systematically more polite than the rest of the population. As I write this, I am trying to gather some recollection of one rude Mexican or child of Mexicans I have met. I come up empty.

Now, in connection with the next story I have to say something quick and historical about myself: I was born in Paris, France. When I was two, the soldiers who marched down the Champs-Elysees were not French. How do I know? The French are incapable of orderly goose-stepping.

There is a woman in her late twenties who works as a cashier in a pan dulce bakery I patronize every so often. She has grown on me. The reason is that early in our fleeting relationship, she discovered that I was a special kind of Anglo, one who actually understands Spanish and who actually speaks reasonably well. This is a digression: California is full of people who have taken multiple vacations in Mexico and who brought back fluency in how to say, “Two more beers, please,” and, “Where is the restroom?” They are gringos who embarrass the local Mexicans who don’t know how to let them know politely that their’s, the Mexicans’ English, is much more serviceable than their’s, the gringos’ Spanish, and that therefore they, the Anglos, should keep their primitive Spanish where it belongs, in their back-pockets, for a dire emergency.

So, anyway, soon after discovering my comparative fluency (comparative!) the young cashier began addressing me casually as “.” This flatters me, of course, because California Mexicans, as is the wont of immigrants in many places, mark their belongingness with each other through the use of a familiar form of address. Mexicans who would go on calling each other, “Seňor” and “Seňora” in Vera Cruz or in Guadalajara all their lives, instantly begin using the “” when they live in a sea of gringos. The young woman does me honor whenever she returns change addressing me the same way, as if I were one of her affectionate uncles, for instance. And yes, I understand that she may be simply engaging in a commercially valid practice. All the same, she does not call “” others who look like me.

And, it’s time to say that my grand-daughter often accompanies me to the pan dulce shop. It’s true that her looks may have facilitated this process of instant assimilation. I don’t want to tell here this long and interesting sub-story but the child, three at the time, is no more related to me by blood than say, a gopher. Instead, she is very pretty (I may brag since we are not genetic kin) in a bronzed sort of way that might well look Mexican to a Mexican eye. At any rate, I often enter the pan dulce shop with the child in tow. She is smart, talkative and loud, like Grandpa, and she wins hearts everywhere she goes (also like…). So, anyway, one day, I show up at the shop without that beautiful child.

“And where is the little one?” asks the young cashier.

“Oh,” I say, “she is with her Mom.”

“I see,” retorts the cashier, “she is with her mother one week and with you the other week.”

“No, no,” I exclaim, “she is not my daughter, she is my grand-daughter!”

The young woman raises her head, looks at me intently. I swear, disappointment in me is written all over her face.

What’s not to like?

* brothers

Links From Around the Consortium

Jacques Delacroix continues his vendetta against Ron Paul.

Dr. Ninos Malek points out the obvious in regards to guns and public schools

Fred Foldvary has a wonderful piece in the Progress Report on Turkey joining NAFTA

Brian Gothberg (with Gregory Christainsen) writes on property rights and whaling technology

Professor Jeffrey Rogers Hummel on Ben Bernanke versus Milton Friedman (pdf) in the Independent Review

Have a great weekend!