Amid Major Transformation in Migration Flows between U.S. and Mexico over Past Decade, New MPI and El Colegio de México Report Sketches Road Map for New Binational Policy Approach
WASHINGTON – The U.S.-Mexico migration corridor, which is the world’s largest, has undergone a vast and often under-appreciated transformation in the past decade. Illegal immigration of Mexicans has declined sharply. Most Mexicans moving to the United States now do so legally and with higher human capital than in the past. And an increasing number of Americans live south of the border, even as the Mexican population in the United States declines.
Yet as the migration landscape across the region has evolved, with Central American immigration to the United States now the dominant feature and Mexico increasingly a migrant-destination country, migration policy has not always kept pace—even as both countries face surprisingly similar challenges.
While the current political moment might not seem ideal for real cooperation between the two governments amid deep tensions over U.S. enforcement and asylum policy and threats of U.S. tariffs on Mexican goods, the two countries are converging in terms of real challenges and opportunities on migration. As a result, this is an opportune moment to visualize a different type of binational policy that could reflect the real complementarity that exists between the two countries, setting the stage for its later implementation.
A new report from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) and El Colegio de México (COLMEX), Investing in the Neighborhood: Changing Mexico-U.S. Migration Patterns and Opportunities for Sustainable Cooperation, draws from discussions of an influential study group convened by both institutions to sketch a forward-looking policy road map. It also offers a detailed, data-rich look at shifting migration patterns and demographics.
“The mental maps of policymakers and the public on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border continue to be dominated by the specter of large-scale, irregular migration from Mexico to the United States. Yet the situation on the ground has changed,” write MPI and COLMEX Presidents Andrew Selee and Silvia Giorguli with colleagues Claudia Masferrer and Ariel Ruiz Soto. “This changing migration landscape demands a critical rethink of long-held assumptions and should create new opportunities for cooperation.”
While the U.S. and Mexican governments have advanced enforcement-minded policies to address rising Central American migration, and the Trump administration has focused on narrowing access to asylum, lasting success requires the two countries to:
- Reform their asylum systems to ensure fair but faster processing
- Strengthen immigration institutions by restructuring Mexico’s principal immigration agency and updating U.S. government infrastructure and resources at the border
- Create or expand legal employment pathways as alternatives to illegal immigration
- Work in a regional, coordinated fashion to disrupt large migrant-smuggling organizations
- Build a truly 21st century border that facilitates legal traffic and thwarts illicit activity via shared border management.
Both countries also have an interest in supporting the development of the economies, governance and institutional infrastructure of migrant-origin countries in Central America and Venezuela. And finally, they share interests in ensuring the successful integration of each other’s nationals—and other immigrants—in workplaces, classrooms and civic life.
“There is no way to effectively address regional mixed migration without a regional approach,” the authors conclude. “As both Mexico and the United States face the challenge of managing large-scale mixed migration from Central America and elsewhere, U.S. policymakers would be wise to engage Mexico in ways that are mutually beneficial rather than seeking to impose unilateral measures that undermine cooperation, as has happened in recent months.”
Para una versión en español: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/migracion-mexico-estados-unidos-cooperacion-sostenible
The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) 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, please visit www.migrationpolicy.org.