The Other Way Out: US Migration Today

Juan vargas.jpg (102262 bytes)Juan Vargas, a Guaracha ejidatario who migrated to the United States when he was fourteen years old, working first on a farm, and later in a car plant, before the Great Depression. He returned from the North voluntarily "to get his little piece of land" when he heard that a land reform movement was developing against the Guaracha hacienda under Cárdenas's leadership.

Political developments in Michoacán have not, to date, produced any significant impact on the state of the regional economy in the Ciénega de Chapala. The government of Ernesto Zedillo has clung strongly to the basic elements of the neoliberal economic strategy adopted by his predecessor, despite pressures from organizations representing peasant and farmer interests for a radical change of course, as capitalist agriculture continues to suffer alongside a now virtually moribund ejido sector. If Salinas achieved nothing else, he seems to have locked Mexico into the NAFTA and all that follows from that. The government faces many political problems: the PRI's capacity to win elections has declined, and a weakened national state has responded to urban and rural social unrest by an increasing militarization of public security.

In the face of continuing crisis at home, more and more people from the Ciénega have been pursuing the strategy of seeking individual solutions to their problems through migration to the United States. Migration was becoming a more permanent and family affair even before the Simpson Rodino Act (IRCA) strengthened these tendencies when it came into effect in 1988, but the current generation of new migrants are now, once again, being forced to enter the United States illegally, in the face of a continuously escalating climate of hostility and discrimination. The new Federal legislation has now taken up the denial of medical and educational services to the undocumented and their children pioneered by California's notorious Proposition 187, but the impact of developments north of the border has principally been to increase the relative disadvantage of Mexican workers rather than to reduce the movement of people. For most, there is no real alternative. Most ejidatario families are now heavily dependent on the earnings of US migrant children to meet basic consumption needs, but earnings from migration are, even for those migrants who choose the dangerous option of involvement in the drugs business, generally not sufficient to make any contribution to reviving the agricultural economy. Indeed, under present circumstances, it is dubious whether any investment in agriculture would pay off in this region.

To learn more about international migration in the past and today, click here.

Juan Jesucita & parents.jpg (60269 bytes)Two generations of migrant men. Jesús (left), eldest son of the agrarista Cleofas Prado, went many times to the United States as a bracero, and on a few further occasions as an undocumented migrant, buying his ejido land title with his US migrant earnings from an older ejidatario who left for Mexico City with his family. His wife, Raquel, stayed in Mexico and raised his seven children. Juan, their second son (right), was just too young to join his older brother Chuche as a rodino, and was one of the first generation of new undocumented migrants to follow the end of IRCA legalizations. His wife, Jesucita, will stay at home with their baby when he next goes to the United States, although many wives of rodinos chose to join their husbands in the North and had children there.