January 28, 2010
Contact: Michelle Mittelstadt
WASHINGTON – Immigrant integration remains largely an afterthought in U.S. immigration policy discussions and the country's integration policies remain chronically underfunded and limited in scope. In the absence of coherent policies at the federal level, the responsibility for immigrant integration historically has fallen to families, employers, churches, non-governmental organizations and an increasingly restive set of state and local governments.
New partners are emerging, though. Mexico's efforts to help its migrants succeed in the United States offer a new example of an immigrant-sending country looking to improve its emigrants' lives and connect with its diaspora, according to a report released today by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI). With Mexicans accounting for one-third of all immigrants in the United States, Mexico's initiative is of particular note.
The report, Protection Through Integration: The Mexican Government's Efforts to Aid Migrants in the United States, details the activities of Mexico's Institute of Mexicans Abroad (IME) in a first-ever attempt to map the expanding range of IME programs. The MPI review makes clear that Mexico has moved beyond traditional consular protections to deliver an array of civic, health, education and financial services to its migrants, 96 percent of whom live in the United States. These tasks have traditionally been carried out by migrant-receiving countries.
"The policy innovation here is that the initiatives IME is offering to Mexican immigrants in the United States generally have been viewed as the responsibility of the immigrant-receiving country," said the report's author, MPI Policy Analyst Laureen Laglagaron. "While these programs need to be further evaluated, they offer a number of potential best practices not just for Mexico but for other immigrant-sending countries."
Mexico's consular offices and the services they provide have expanded in response to an increase in the number of Mexican immigrants in the United States from 2.2 million in 1980 to 11.4 million in 2008. A shift in Mexico's approach to its migrants has emerged alongside these demographic trends – one rooted in a belief that a better-integrated immigrant benefits the individual immigrant, the sending country and the receiving country.
"The fact of the matter is that consular offices have become increasingly important – if often overlooked – integrating institutions for our most recent migrants. After all, countries of origin and destination have shared interests in ensuring that immigrants and their children succeed in building their human capital and achieving socioeconomic mobility," said MPI Senior Vice President Michael Fix, who co-directs MPI's National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy.
In many cases, IME's programs fill gaps in the social welfare system and are carried out in collaboration with U.S. school districts, hospitals, universities, foundations and community-based organizations.
IME's activities include:
- Providing low-cost distance-learning instruction to Mexican immigrant adults that builds on the instruction they received in Mexico.
- Offering workshops on financial literacy that encourage the use of formal banking institutions to build credit histories in the United States and qualify for home or car loans.
- Establishing medical stations located within consular offices (Ventanillas de Salud) where unauthorized immigrants and their families can receive basic medical information.
- Creating a unique model of binational civic engagement through a migrant-elected, migrant-led council that focuses on the Mexican government's policies on Mexicans abroad and develops leadership within diaspora communities.
The report is available at www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/IME-Jan2010.pdf.
The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels.