WASHINGTON — The U.S. relationship with Mexico and much of Central America is defined more by the workforce and societal implications of regional migration than by any other single issue. Yet the United States and its neighbors have failed, thus far, to consider the most effective approach to build upon and smartly manage the region’s human resources to common advantage, including increasing the economic benefits from migration for all concerned.
Today, 1 out of every 5 high school graduates entering the U.S. workforce is from Mexico or Central America, and about 10 percent of Mexicans and Central Americans live in the United States — and these numbers will only get larger. Hence the importance of a long-term, strategic vision for building up the region’s human-capital infrastructure as a means of improving the lives of the region’s people; laying the foundation for stronger, more consistent and more equitable economic growth; helping foster a more economically competitive region in an unforgiving global economy; and, over time, making migration relations within the region normal and ordinary, rather than a subject of constant tension.
To develop and promote that vision, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) and the Latin American Program/Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars are convening a Regional Migration Study Group, co-chaired by former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez and former Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein. In addition to the co-chairs, the Study Group’s membership consists of 17 high-ranking former officials, civil-society leaders, policy intellectuals and immigration specialists in the United States, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
“We can no longer look for unilateral answers to complex economic realities that have even more complex social and political consequences for all of our countries,” Zedillo said. “Enhancing the economic and social prospects of the region by building up and better leveraging its human capital is vital to our future prosperity, particularly at a time when the global economy is being rebalanced and will lead to a different migration relationship than today.”
The Study Group aims to act as a virtual think tank to the region’s policymakers who manage day-to-day migration relations and issues related to human capital and economic competitiveness, while also minding the many legitimate concerns of civil society across the region. Among the i ssues to be explored are safer and better functioning borders; more orderly migration flows that better serve the interests of all who engage, or are affected by, the migration system; the development and coordinated promotion of more efficient education and workforce-development systems; and new strategies to advance successful immigrant integration.
“Countries aren’t like people; they don’t necessarily get wiser with age,” Gutierrez said. “By working together and understanding and tapping regional demographic advantages, we aim to build on previous policy discussions to ensure that smarter ways to manage our human resources become a top priority within the United States and throughout the region. A key outcome of smarter policies in this regard will be greater benefits for the U.S. economy, including gaining more from immigration.”
“Migration is a global phenomenon, but the history and geography of the United States, Mexico and the northern triangle of Central America mean that our countries share a common set of challenges and opportunities,” Stein said. “By setting the stage for thinking and acting as a region, we have the chance to develop wiser and farther-reaching policy responses than any one country could ever hope to accomplish on its own.”
The Study Group will commission and issue research over the next two years in preparation for final recommendations that will be released in early 2013. “Strengthening the region’s human-capital infrastructure – through education and workforce-development reforms that gradually develop common standards in key sectors – will create improved economic opportunities for people, fuel the engine for growth in each country and strengthen the region’s competitiveness,” said MPI President and Study Group Co-Director Demetrios Papademetriou.
Study Group Co-Director Andrew Selee, who directs the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, agreed. “Reaching a common understanding of the complexity of our migration situation is vital to ensuring that ‘immigration’ is not a controversial word; and that ultimately migration becomes a choice rather than a need.”
The Study Group’s third co-director is MPI Senior Fellow Doris Meissner, who leads MPI’s U.S. Immigration Policy Program and is former Commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. MPI Policy Analyst Aaron Terrazas is the initiative’s project manager.
The Study Group is launching the initiative with an accompanying research publication and a website. The first release in a series of papers, Evolving Demographic and Human-Capital Trends in Mexico and Central America and Their Implications for Regional Migration, examines the demographic and human-capital dynamics that have shaped the immigration influx into the United States from Mexico and Central America. The paper, by Terrazas, Papademetriou and former MPI Senior Policy Analyst Marc Rosenblum, notes that the combination of demographic and human-capital characteristics of Mexico and Central America and economic conditions in the United States have been at the heart of recent migration flows . These constantly evolving patterns mean that in the years ahead, policymakers throughout the region may no longer be able to rely on the conventional wisdom about regional labor mobility that has guided decision-making to date. The report is available here.
The group’s website, www.migrationpolicy.org/regionalstudygroup, showcases the initiative’s mission, member bios and selected background readings. It will host further research and the Study Group’s findings.
The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. 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. For more on MPI, visit www.migrationpolicy.org.
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is the national, living memorial honoring President Woodrow Wilson. The Center promotes policy-relevant research and dialogue in an effort to address current and emerging challenges confronting the United States and the world. Created by an Act of Congress in 1968, the Center is a nonpartisan institution headquartered in Washington, D.C., and supported by both public and private funds. For more on the Wilson Center, visit www.wilsoncenter.org.