Two very different tales of immigration

The Mexico/Guatemala border (photo by controvento, Flickr Creative Commons)

Last week, my father alerted me to two lead stories in the Washington Post and the New York Times about immigration through and from Mexico. One left you feeling optimistic and uplifted, the other depressed and powerless. The difference was striking.

Let’s get the bad news over with first : the Post’s story reported that Central American immigration has slowed due to horrific violence in Mexico. Immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador hear about the massacres and mass graves up north, and naturally, they reconsider risking their lives for the journey. “Father Flor Maria Rigoni, an Italian priest running a shelter in the border city of Tapachula, said the Central Americans seem more desperate to him now than when he arrived a decade earlier. ‘There is nothing for them back home,’ he said. ‘They come through here like sheep going to the slaughter,'” the story goes.

If you haven’t yet slit your wrists just hearing that, well here’s the good news: undocumented Mexican immigration to the U.S. has also dwindled because Mexico’s economy has strengthened and diversified, and education has improved. The story mentions that border violence and deportation are two factors eroding immigration, but they don’t represent the whole story. “The decision to leave home involves a comparison, a wrenching cost-benefit analysis, and just as a Mexican baby boom and economic crises kicked off the emigration waves in the 1980s and ’90s, research now shows that the easing of demographic and economic pressures is helping keep departures in check,” the New York Times stated.

I appreciated the Times story more, and not just because it was positive. It offered a fresher narrative, one that’s more helpful for the U.S. public, which might just imagine Mexico as one big river of blood given the news coverage. (Oh, look there has already been a parody of that notion!) It’s obvious the New York Times invested a lot of energy and hours in the story, which is part of a series, if I’m remembering correctly. It’s about time someone investigated what’s behind Mexico’s slowing immigration and relatively advanced economy. It’s a tough order though: introducing Americans to a whole new reality about immigration after years of hearing the opposite story.

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