April 27th, 2012
03:08 PM ET

Zakaria: Are Mexicans giving up on U.S?

Editor's Note: Tune in Sunday at 10a.m. or 1p.m. ET for Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN.

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

This past week, the Supreme Court deliberated over a controversial Arizona immigration law. It comes amidst a climate of hostility. Just look at what candidates said during the Republican primaries:

"Mitt Romney will complete construction of a high-tech fence," the candidate announced on his campaign website. Michele Bachmann promised to "build a double-walled fence." And Herman Cain said: "We're going to have a fence; it's going to be 20 feet high; it's going to have barbed wire on the top."

The fence in question guards a third of America's 2,000 mile-long border with Mexico. Supporters of harsher laws argue that 3 out of every 5 illegal immigrants are from Mexico. But just as American hostility is reaching a crescendo, the problem might be disappearing.

I was struck by a Pew report I saw this week. It says a historic pattern of migration has been reversed. Comparing two recent five-year blocks, the report finds that not only has the number of Mexicans immigrating to the U.S. declined by 50 percent (from 3 million to about 1.4 million), the number of Mexicans going the other way back home has doubled. Seven hundred thousand Mexicans in the U.S. moved back between 1995 and 2000. But that number increased to 1.4 million between 2005 and 2010.

The decline in illegal immigrants is no surprise. Even President Obama has spent more on immigration enforcement than his predecessor. What is surprising however, is the drop in net legal migration.

This has several explanations. The U.S. economy is weaker. On the other hand, Mexico's economy is strengthening. Its GDP per capita is 15,000 dollars - about a third that of America's.

Some of Mexico's competitiveness is due to NAFTA - the North American Free Trade Agreement. Because it avoids U.S. tariffs, its exports work out to be cheaper than China's. Last year, Mexico did 400 billion dollars worth of business with the U.S. That's more than Argentina and Brazil combined.

But whatever the set of reasons behind the Pew findings, immigration is always determined by both pull-and-push - the need to leave a place is as crucial as the lure of a new destination.

So, are we losing our allure?

If that's the case, that's not good news. The U.S. has always benefitted from being demographically dynamic. A major advantage we have over Japan, Europe, and even China is that our population will continue to expand. And it's been expanding with young people who are hard-working and full of drive and pay lots of taxes.

Look at the data: The median age in the U.S. was about 37 years in 2010. China's was lower at 34 years. But come 2050, that dynamic will be reversed, thanks to decades of Beijing's one-child policy and American immigration. The median age here will be 40 but in China it will hit nearly 49 years.

An aging country creates a deficit of workers and a surplus of retirees who spend. Our demographic advantage holds true against a number of countries. We're projected to be better off demographically than France, the UK, Korea, Spain, and, of course, Japan.

This demographic advantage is entirely due to immigration. The United States has a fertility rate not so different from European countries, so our population gains (and these are gains in young people) come entirely from immigration.

The Pew Study shows we've clamped down on illegal immigration. But it also shows that Mexicans don't want to come here as much legally as they did before. So it is actually a mixed picture.

In trying to one-up each other on building bigger and higher fences, demonizing illegals, and hoping that they self-deport, we seem to have forgotten that it is the spirit of acceptance and hospitality that has made America so attractive to legal immigrants for centuries. Let's hope we can stay that way.

Tune in Sunday at 10a.m. or 1p.m. ET for Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN.

soundoff (602 Responses)
  1. Raydot

    Construction trades are high skilled jobs that Americans go to school to learn as apprentices. I am a journyman carpenter out of work because Obama gave all of our construction trade jobs to illegal mexican aliens. He also gave 22 million job work orders to illegal aliens, while 25 million Americans are out of work. Anchor babies are also illegal aliens. The hiring of illegal aliens does not do the economy one bit of good. It only puts Americans out of work. Obama seems to think, only mexicans can work construction. Illegal means illegal, and anyone who does not care about this countries laws, does not give a damn about this country. This country was at it's best before cheap slave labor came around. We will continue to be a failed economy as long as we have cheap labor, and why not, we can't buy anything with no money to make the wheels turn. We all lose.

    May 21, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  2. Steve

    Mr. Obama, tear down that wall!

    May 22, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Reply
  3. tommy burke

    I'm an American and I see that when it's in our backyard then we say or do something about it but when it's 1000 miles away from where we live then it isn't much of an issue. To deny anyone the right to eat and work and live because of status quo is the same as saying when it comes my turn to be poor and without everything then it's ok for people with a good life to deny my existence to survive. That is not ok and what people are doing to immigrants is just selfish and immoral to the extent of everyones right to live a free and happy life. We can blame Mexicans for drugs into the U.S.A. but the real trouble are the people in the United States that are buying these drugs. Mexicans are not the problem, it's the way society has become selfish and afraid because of all the lies and propaganda that media shoves down everyone's throat. We are all human no matter where we are born thats the truth and fact at which no media can take away because as soon as someone believes that getting rid of someone because of race is alright then it means it's ok to get rid of those that believe it to be true. If we are to get to a place in our lives that defines us as being human and superior at being that then we need to stop listening to scare tactics and start lending a helping hand to our friends to the south of the border because although there are some bad people in Mexico just like elsewhere in the world that does not mean we give a death sentence to every Mexican that is looking for a better life and a just one at that. Lets turn this all around and stop blaming and start helping our fellow human brothers and sisters by giving in to compassion and realize our true calling as part of the solution not to be the arm of hatred and lies and dispair. Stop the construction of another Berlin wall and start helping those that need our help to rise and help the whole world get back on track to become one again. If you want peace then we have to let go of hatred and fear. Stop listening to false reports and believing in our media as if they are the key to happiness because that boat sailed away a long time ago.

    May 24, 2012 at 11:49 am | Reply
  4. kwoods

    The US should just buy Mexico.

    May 24, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Reply
  5. Dries

    No country in the world can afford an unlimited influx of immigrants, the carrying capacity of the country will be reached and then it will affect a country's living standard negatively. On the other hand many people from poorer countries will immigrate to other countries if they can have a higher living standard.
    So it looks like a clash of interests. Therefore I think the best solution to such a problem is a strong growing economy of the more poorer countries, then people of such countries are more likely to stay in their home country. The problem is to how to get their economies growing.
    The news about Mexico's growing economy wil be good for the USA, this will be the most effective way of curbing a
    huge influx of immigrants and law enforcement of secondary importance.
    Very important is that if you give somebody a fish he has food for one day but if you succesfully teach him how to catch
    a fish he has food for the rest of his life!

    May 25, 2012 at 11:50 am | Reply
  6. Facepalming As We Speak

    The majority of these comments are merely hate fueled and nothing else. It's sad really, because at the end of the day, we are all humans and we share a continent and borders may I remember you. If we can't learn to get along now, then we will never see peace for this generation and the next. And hasn't there been enough innocent blood spilled already American or Hispanic?

    Fact is most of these Mexicans, many people turn their noses down, have kids that are ((((legalized citizens)))) of the USA. Many of which are now the majority of this country. And too hate them is to hate Americans as a whole, and to hate what America was built on, "immigration."

    Speaking of which, unless you are NATIVE AMERICAN. You cannot claim indigenous reign and right to America. Otherwise, you are of European ancestry, which means that not only are you not indigenous to America, but also at one point, your ancestors were unwelcomed illegal immigrants, by the real Native American occupants.

    History will also show you that Mexicans are indigenous to the Southern states of the USA. So, to say that Mexicans are illegal is to say that Native Americans are illegal also, when Mexicans are essentially Amerindians mixed with a Spanish bloodline that occupied these lands before the Gasden purchase. (Of course you knew that right? Something tells me you didn't, or it feels like that while I'm reading these comments. -Sighs.-)

    By the way, Mexican is a nationality, not a race.
    Most Mexicans are in fact Amerindians.

    May 25, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Reply
  7. The Christian American

    So now we are complaining that the illegals are leaving on their own... America is so wishy washy lol

    June 22, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  8. fencepost

    "we seem to have forgotten that it is the spirit of acceptance and hospitality that has made America so attractive to legal immigrants for centuries. Let's hope we can stay that way." No, we don't want to be attractive to illegal immigrants! If illegal immigration stopped and we stopped trying to get things done by paying next to nothing, we could BEGIN to get our economy straight and regain our strength. We've lost it by OUTSOURCING and paying illegals cheap wages to do work Americans used to do for a normal wage. People say we've always had illegals working in farming so what's the difference? The difference is the population of illegals has become immense and they are working in every capacity because Americans are basically greedy and want to get something for nothing. Paying an illegal to do work for you is as bad as outsourcing because you're not supporting our economy here. Of course Mexico's economy is growing, we've helped it by hiring illegals who send the money back home. WAKE UP AMERICA. Hire Americans, pay fairly for the work and stop trying to get something for nothing. Stop outsourcing. This is how we can rebuild our economy and regain our strength.

    July 20, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Reply
  9. pedro

    aqui vamos en camino obama couldnt stop us romney tampoco we are familia and we speak spanglish and we are goign to evolve in this land in to the future of america 1500 y 1600 this was spanish land america was created with our help so dont worri guys we are here to stay and reprocreate and have an awesome vida all togheter hahahahjajja amo america.

    July 28, 2012 at 1:11 am | Reply
  10. Jadynm Roscupp

    I take pleasure in, cause I found exactly what I used to be looking for. You have ended my 4 day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye

    July 29, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  11. SapperOn

    When the US slumps, we can migrate to Mexico.

    August 1, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Reply
  12. Windows 8 Key

    I would like to show my affection for your kind-heartedness giving support to those individuals that need help with the area of interest. Your real commitment to getting the message throughout became amazingly important and has in most cases made employees much like me to arrive at their ambitions. Your entire insightful help indicates a whole lot to me and much more to my colleagues. Thank you; from all of us. Windows 8 Key

    August 24, 2012 at 10:28 am | Reply
  13. Phoenix05

    We can take down that crappy looking border fence and erect a force field in its place. We have the technology and it can be done.

    September 14, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  14. click here

    You really make it appear so easy with your presentation however I in finding this matter to be actually something which I think I might never understand. It seems too complex and extremely broad for me. I'm looking ahead for your subsequent publish, I'll try to get the dangle of it!

    September 19, 2012 at 7:22 am | Reply

    all of you welfare-grubbing, redneck trailer trash (ex. Joe Arpaio) are property of the UNITED WAL-MARTS OF AMERICAN'Ts and you don't even know it yet!!!!!

    September 26, 2012 at 1:01 am | Reply
  16. CloseListener

    Thanks Zakaria for running an ad asking Americans to accept illigal immigrants. How about Mexicans striving to fix Mexico and staying there?Now don't get me wrong, I have no problem with legal immigration by Mexicans that are interested in becoming Americans. But I am sick and tired of a group of people that are too lazy to learn to speak English overrunning our schools and spending all of our education money on ESOL and the like. The Spanish seem to be the only immigrant group that wants to bring their entire culture and language here and refuse to assimilate. Every other immigrant population strives to become American but the Spanish push to have us print in Spanish, provide translation, and Spanish language education for free, and then offer nothing to this Country. We don't want that type of immigrant. We want people that want to be American. Otherwise, they bring us down. Right now, we have entirely too many cultures, languages and impositions upon the American lifestyle. This is a nation of Americans. If you want to be immersed in your own culture and language, go back to your country – Delta is ready when you are. Now, with regards to your story line about how we need to increase immigrant visas in the area of STEM to continue creating new business – you are wrong. We need to stop funding ESOL and fund STEM for Americans and create our own businesses. We need to stop accepting foreigners into our schools and universities and increase American enrollment in colleges. Reliance on foreign immigrants is nothing but a recipe for disaster. Foreign business owners send money, jobs and technology back to their home country and steal everything of value from us. Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Microstrategy, etc were all created by Americans. Then American businesses spend their resources fighting over patent infringement and thievery by foreign businesses. Thanks for your advocacy, but we see through you, Fareed.

    September 30, 2012 at 11:02 am | Reply
  17. Zee

    Mexicans are really proud, family orientated and hard working lets not forget that were all humans people illegals are here doing work Americans are to proud to do when was the last time you seen a white gardener or a white guy washing your car or dumping your trash, cleaning your house etc . Get Off your high horse and get to work you lazy fucs .

    October 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Reply
  18. Matthew Hall

    Good luck to them! Most never really wanted to be American, they just wanted a chance to live their mexican lives with dignity and opportunity. I'm glad that they can now increasingly do that in Mexico. It was never a good idea to try and fix Mexico by exporting its 'problems' any more than it is a good idea to improve your dilapidated house by sneaking into your neighbor's garden shed to find things of value that you might use to fix up your own house.

    October 2, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  19. Lost

    If Jesus knocked on your door, and you saw that he was a Black man, would you open it? Would you embrace him, and would you allow inside to rest his head? Would you follow him?

    October 5, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Reply
  20. Pharmf172

    Hello! deecbda interesting deecbda site! I'm really like it! Very, very deecbda good!

    January 16, 2013 at 5:38 am | Reply
  21. RickSantos01

    I think this is a "typical immigration" article from a Liberal/Progressive or Communist. Each year the world adds 10's of millions of poor people to the world population. Its the responsibility of those countries to deal with their populations. There is no way America can indefinitely have "Never Ending Open Borders". We and the world are actually on the precipe of a Major Financial Depression, which will effect all/most countries. Then the magic reset button will be pressed (will be forced to be pressed), and Illegal and Mass Legal Immigration will stop. Really what this country needs is a 4050 year moratorium on Immigration and for leaders (so called leaders) too sort out the Oliagarph/And Internationalists who are all for Open Borders and Minimum wagers etc....!

    March 16, 2013 at 6:31 pm | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.