NAFTA's Promise and Reality: Lessons from Mexico for the Hemisphere
During the 1990s, NAFTA was promoted by both U.S. and Mexican officials as a means to spur economic growth and job creation in Mexico and thereby reduce the number of unauthorized migrants entering the U.S. from Mexico each year. But in the ten years following NAFTA’s ratification, illegal immigration from Mexico to the U.S. grew substantially, more than doubling between 1990 and 2000 alone. Today, it has become increasingly clear that these initial expectations were widely overstated. This report takes a critical look at NAFTA’s impact on regulating migration from Mexico to the U.S.
Through a detailed examination of the economic and social environments in both the U.S. and Mexico, the author finds little evidence linking NAFTA to the growth in illegal immigration between the U.S. and Mexico. Rather, the author finds that a combination of forces, many having little to do with NAFTA, played a much more consequential role. Specifically, the author finds that these forces include: the Mexican financial crises and subsequent economic restructuring; demographic shifts in Mexico and the failure of Mexican job creation to accommodate a growing workforce; the rapid rural-urban migration in Mexico; the economic boom in the U.S., and; the expansion of strong migrant networks linking the two countries.
Based on these findings, the author concludes that while free trade agreements may not be a panacea for a country’s migration problems, such agreements can serve as a base from which to promote further bilateral and regional cooperation in terms of migration. Such cooperation, the author argues, offers the only viable solution to present day disagreements over migration.