The Flipside of the Immigration Issue: American Emigrants Impact Mexico

LatinaLista — Why is it that in Washington conversations tend to be one-sided?
Take for instance my favorite subject these days – immigration. The focus always centers on Mexican immigrants and their impact on U.S. society. Nobody wants to talk about the flip side of this conversation – that while, yes, Mexican immigrants are coming north, there also are American emigrants going south.

American retirees in Mexico find life enjoyable and affordable.
(Source: mayanholiday.blogspot.com)

And, according to migration experts, U.S. citizens impact the regions of Mexico they have settled into just as much as Mexican immigrants do here.


Mexican census data show that between 1990 and 2000, the number of Americans in Mexico grew 84.3%.
Professor David Warner of the University of Texas, who studies the integration of the U.S. and Mexican health care systems, says more than 75,000 U.S. retirees live in Mexico.
Many of those Mexico-bound are retirees, 55 and older. It’s an interesting contrast to the fact found by the Urban Institute that calculates the overall age of an undocumented Mexican immigrant entering the USA since 1996 is 21.
Just as poor economic conditions are the driving forces behind these young Mexican immigrants coming into the United States, the same is true for the majority of retirees who feel driven out of their own country.
The increasing cost of health care, an uncertain future for the Social Security system and a cost of living that keeps rising are a few of the factors that compel U.S. retirees to look beyond our borders for where they might spend their golden years.
Syndicated finance expert Scott Burns predicts that thousands more baby boomers will be crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in years to come just to sustain a lifestyle that will be harder to manage once they find themselves on fixed incomes.
Burns estimates, based on a range of data, that a retired couple living off $26,400 a year in Social Security benefits can raise their standard of living, without paying Medicare expenses, to $42,400 by moving to Mexico, where the cost of living can be up to 40% lower than in the USA.
U.S. retirees who can’t afford private Mexican health insurance can qualify for the Mexican Social Security system. Mexico’s health care system charges only $270 annual premiums that include access to hospitals, outpatient clinics, and all medications and care at no additional costs.
It’s no wonder that new retirement communities are sprouting up in Mexico, many in resort areas where lower property values and taxes help U.S. seniors stretch their retirement funds.
The non-profit Migration Policy Institute reported in 2006 that from 1990 until 2000, several Mexican municipalities experienced high population growth fueled by this American influx: Chapala, 581% or 2,907 people; Mexicali, 117% or 1,446 people; Los Cabos, 308% or 709 people.

Popular destination points for American retirees in Mexico.
(Source: Migration Policy Institute)
With all the fuss about how Mexican immigrants are changing the face of American society, it’s interesting to note that the same is true in pockets of Mexico from American emigrants.
In those areas where U.S. retirees have flocked, English dominates and stores and businesses cater to American tastes and traditions – while in the heart of local Mexican society.
Sound familiar?
In a research report titled “America’s Emigrants: U.S. Retirement Migration to Mexico and Panama,” the authors found that few of the retirees are even fluent in Spanish, and while they bring more money into the local economy, they adversely impact it in other ways as well.
For instance, a Pan American Health Organization study found that many of the retirees suffer from diabetes, hypertension and heart disease — the costliest diseases to treat under the low-priced Mexican healthcare system.
Also, because of the influx of American emigrants in some areas of the country, real estate is often priced out of reach of local Mexican citizens.
Sheila Croucher, professor of political science at Ohio’s Miami University and the author of the upcoming University of Texas title On the Other Side of the Fence: American Immigrants in Mexico, further uncovered just how much US emigrants are impacting our neighbors to the south.
In a conversation with officials from San Miguel de Allende, Croucher was told that U.S. citizens make up approximately 8-12,000 of the town’s population of 80,000. But even that small percentage is enough to alter the economy in such a way that locals cannot afford to live in the heart of the city but are forced to move to the outskirts.
And when it comes to the issue of illegally working, some American emigrants are as guilty as their Mexican counterparts in the USA.
Though numbers are not precisely known, Mexican authorities know that there are some American emigrants who are working in Mexico without the proper paperwork and are not paying taxes.
San Miguel de Allende city officials have said that unlicensed businesses owned by foreigners cost the local government more than $360,000 a year in lost taxes and fees.
Croucher also found that while American emigrants have set up house in Mexico, they have not entirely separated themselves from the politics back home.
She calls this phenomenon “extra-territorial citizenship.” In this age of cellphones, the Internet and globalization, the notion that citizenship extends beyond the confines of a specific territory is a progressive reality.

Retiree soaking up the Mexican sun.
(Source: mexicoadventure.com)

Regardless of which side of the border one comes from, this phenomenon is true and it just adds to the complexity of today’s immigration issue.
Yet, it just goes to show that the immigration conversation is two-sided and ongoing. Each side has its share of the good and the bad, but the flow of people back and forth ultimately is good for both countries.
Mexico seems to understand this reality and is taking an open-minded approach.
Isn’t it time we did, too?

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31 Comments

  1. EYES OF TEXAS said:

    I’m sure all these retirees entered Mexico with documentation from the government of Mexico. They got permission to be living in Mexico, they didn’t sneak in by crossing the border illegally. Here is that blending of legal immigrants with illegal aliens in the U.S. The two are totally different and until the distinction can be made between the two, all the pro-illegal alien crowd will remain uncredible.

  2. Texano78704 said:

    Bravo Marisa for covering the “flip side.” Mexico has the largest US ex-pat community that is estimated to be on the order of about one million people.

  3. Texano78704 said:

    “I’m sure all these retirees entered Mexico with documentation from the government of Mexico. They got permission to be living in Mexico, they didn’t sneak in by crossing the border illegally.”
    This of course is just suppostion on your part. No passport or visa is currently required by Mexico for US citizens entering their country. If the Mexican government did do that, they would be able to tell us accurately every single time some crook fled to Mexico.

  4. EYES OF TEXAS said:

    To establish residence in Mexico it would be nonsence to believe that some type of documentation would not be required. A fugitive from the law is already a criminal and doesn’t care about legalities, only about escape.
    These retirees are supporting themselves, not expecting to be cared for by Mexicos social system, unlike a large majority of illegal aliens in the U.S. that are subsidized with tax payer dollars. The retirees in Mexico are not taking jobs from Mexican citizens, nor are they overloading schools with their offspring. It’s a win-win situation for Mexico.

  5. Frank said:

    First, I don’t think anyone should enter and live in another country illegally. That would include Americans who may be doing it also.
    As far as legal immigration goes, it should be up to each individual country to decide how many and who they will allow in. One country should not dictate to another country what their immigration policy should be just to be in line with what theirs is.

  6. Frank said:

    Mexico has every right to deport Americans or anyone else there illegally as does the U.S. If governments choose to look the other way and not enforce their immigration laws then why have them?

  7. miguel said:

    Immigrants are foreigners authorized to enter the country with the purpose of establishing permanent residency. Immigrants will be allowed to remain in the country upon satisfying various requisites and will be granted a permit for up to one year annually renewed for up to five years, provided they comply with the proper requisites established by the Ministry of the Interior. Upon completion of the five year period as an immigrant, the foreigner will be authorized as a permanent resident (“inmigrado”). Immigrants staying out of the country, more than 18 months in a continuous or non-continuous manner during the five year annually renewable period will not be granted the permanent resident status until a new five year period has elapsed thereafter. When such absences total more than 2 years, foreigners will lose their immigrant status.
    From http://www.mexico-trade.com/citizen.html
    along with some misc restrictions as to profession, marriage, etc

  8. Texano78704 said:

    “To establish residence in Mexico it would be nonsence to believe that some type of documentation would not be required.”
    Again another supposition that every one entering Mexico for the purpose of residing there is actually going to do it.
    “These retirees are supporting themselves, not expecting to be cared for by Mexicos social system…”
    Actually, that is just the opposite of what this article says.
    “…unlike a large majority of illegal aliens in the U.S. that are subsidized with tax payer dollars.”
    I’d be willing to bet it is actually just the opposite of what you say. “A large majority” (as opposed to a small majority) come here to work, period. It is the employer that benefits most by pocketing the extra profit from paying low wages.

  9. Frank said:

    Who do you think subsidizes any poverty level individual’s healthcare in this country if the employer doesn’t provide health insurance?

  10. Jax said:

    You are comparing apples and oranges. About 75,000 Americans who bring money to Mexico opposed to 12 or 20 million Mexicans who bring nothing to the US. Wonderful! If the Mexican government doesn’t want the Americans to be there they should simple send them back home. That, of course, is exactly what I believe the American government should so to all illegals.

  11. Marisa Treviño said:

    No, Jax, you’re wrong in assuming that the labor Mexican immigrants bring is of less value than the green dollars that American retirees take to Mexico.
    By not equating value to their labor, gives me some insight as to how you see Mexican immigrants.

  12. Nanette said:

    While I don’t support entering any country illegally, I also believe our restraints on Mexican immigration are too severe, which causes people to resort to illegality. There is always going to be an element who crosses a border with crime in mind, both Americans running south, and Mexicanos running north, but the majority of immigrants going both ways are simply looking for a better life.
    As a nurse, and concerned citizen, I’d also like to clarify a common misconception which is constantly stated in posts such as these comments. The illegal immigrant actually accounts for a very minor percentage of the burden on the healthcare system. (Instead of just saying so, how about ACTUALLY looking up the stats? They simply don’t support that stance.) In actuality, the largest burden comes from uninsured American citizens who don’t pay their hospital bills. Our healthcare insurance problem is an internal one. Most illegal aliens (the largest sector being young, employed males) do not seek out health care as they fear it may lead to deportation. Those who do are often seeking care after sustaining on-the-job injuries which are covered by workman’s compensation. Both the economies of the United States, and Mexico would benefit from an unemotional, detached, objective, look at the big picture. Sure, “build a fence” sounds like a “quick fix”, but, like most quick fixes, it is a flawed plan that could be improved upon.

  13. Maldonado said:

    LL: “No, Jax, you’re wrong in assuming that the labor Mexican immigrants bring is of less value than the green dollars that American retirees take to Mexico.
    By not equating value to their labor, gives me some insight as to how you see Mexican immigrants.”
    I really wonder about the quality of education these young people in here seem to have.
    Anyone with college level macro-econ 1A and 1B courses would be able to recognize the nativists failure to include in their rhetoric the labor value of migrants’ work product, working its way through the economy, creating and creating and those creations – creating and creating throughout the economy.
    All they do is look at a few direct costs and are dumbfounded by the amount of decimal places.
    Never do they consider the extrinsic value.

  14. Jax said:

    Maria, I see them for precisely what they are—illegals who have no right to be here.

  15. yave begnet said:

    Nice post.
    Each side has its share of the good and the bad, but the flow of people back and forth ultimately is good for both countries.
    And, more importantly in my view, usually good for the individuals doing the migrating. Individual opportunity is supposed to be one of our strong suits, right?
    On the issue of legality, of course relatively rich people are going to be permitted to immigrate legally–that is true around the world, and it’s true in the U.S., where a wealthy “investor” can essentially buy an E visa while vanishingly few visas are made available for the majority of the people who enter without visas. People who don’t know any better parrot the lie often asserted by GOP politicians: “wait in line like everybody else.” For most Mexicans and Central Americans migrating to the U.S., there is no line to wait in. Period.
    Relatively poor people are going to have legal roadblocks thrown up in their path, whether it’s Mexicans coming to the U.S. or Guatemalans coming to Mexico. It has little to do with imaginary immutable concepts of legality and everything to do with power, privilege, and systematic undervaluing of labor vis-a-vis capital.

  16. Frank said:

    When one looks at the healthcare burden, one should look at one of the largest costs and that is birthing of babies by illegal aliens who have no healthcare coverage. Take a look at Parkland Hospital in Dallas alone and see what their statistics say about what those costs are. Children of illegal aliens become instant citizens and they are therefore entitled to government benefits up until they reach the age of 18 years old. Emergency rooms are used for doctor visits and if anyone has been to one lately, you know just how slammed they are with non-paying patients and the wait for treatment is ridiculous. There is no fear of deportation because no one is asked what their legal status is.
    It doesn’t matter if our immigration laws make it difficult to come here for some or many. The rules are in place for good reason. Fair quotas to all, education, job availability and population growth are some of the determining factors in establishing our immigration laws and quotas. Mexicans and other Latin Americans are only second to Asians for legal immigration quotas and only by a few percentage points.
    We are living in a population driven economy and that is not good in the long run for this country. Better to have a smaller econonmy to mainly accomodate a citizen labor force with some reasonable numbers of immigrants allowed in each year. We already have 300 million people in this country with shortages of many necessities and rising prices because of demand. Our birth rate is still nearlly double of our death rates.

  17. Jax said:

    Intewresting—but meaningless. The US has laws about immigration and I believe they should be obeyed. It really is very simple.

  18. Nanette said:

    I WORK in a hospital. I’m aware we don’t ask immigration status. Illegals DON’T work in hospitals. They don’t necessarily know that. I’ve witnessed the fear first hand, so don’t bother telling me the fear doesn’t exist. Just because the questions don’t exist doesn’t mean the fear doesn’t exist.
    According to the Hospital Association of Southern California illegal immigrants account for 20% of the unreimbursed healthcare costs.
    That leaves EIGHTY percent that we citizens are responsible for.
    I can’t speak to one hospital in Dallas’ stats , but how do they fit into the big picture for the state of Texas I wonder?
    Is 20% insignificant? No. But you can hardly say they are to blame for the problem. They are a minor contributing factor. (As I said.)
    As for the benefits paid to the children, the U.S. Social Security Administration has estimated that three quarters of undocumented immigrants pay payroll taxes, and that they contribute $6-7 billion (that’s BILLION with a B) in Social Security funds that they will be unable to claim (Porter 2005). This somewhat offsets the costs of these children.
    In addition to that undocumented immigrants pay the same real estate taxes—whether they own homes or taxes are passed through to rents—and the same sales and other consumption taxes as everyone else. The majority of state and local costs of schooling and other services are funded by these taxes.(Porter 2005)
    So the children’s educations end up being paid for too.
    This is what I meant about people not bothering to look up the stats. It’s so much easier to take an emotional stance on an issue.
    As I said, should illegal immigration happen? No. But the answer may lie in giving a means of legal immigration, rather than in building a fence.
    People want to believe if we “kick them all out” it will be great for the economy. Tell that to the Colorado farmers whose crops rotted in the fields in 2006 after tight clamp downs on the illegal population. Surprisingly, with all of those job positions open, there was not a swarm of white, black, asian, or even latino workers to fill the spots. In order for THAT to happen, the pay would have to be higher, which would probably result in higher taxes for citizens, so that the government could pay out more in subsidies to the farmers, and then again the cost would get passed on to the consumer in increased cost of the product at the grocery store. The point being – quick fixes are often not GREAT fixes. We need our government to really research the impact and make responsible decisions which are in the best interests of the country, not necessarily the populist view (which may be uninformed) but which will help you get elected.

  19. Frank said:

    Nanette, are you able to provide credible government sources for your claims that illegals pay in enough in taxes to cover their social costs? If not, then that is just your opinion and is meaningless. You also fail to mention the overcrowded conditions in schools, jails and hosptital due to an extra 12 million people in this country and their offspring.
    They fear? They should fear. They violated our immigration laws. Anyone who has committed any kind of crime, should fear detection.
    We already have a guest worker program and a way of entering legally into this country. We need to determine just what our foreign labor needs are first rather than just giving 12 million illegal aliens legalization. We need to take into account population growth. I have already stated that an economy driven by massive population growth will bite us in the butt down the line in the way of depleted natural resources and putting a strain on our social infrastructures.
    The fence isn’t just to stop those looking for work illegally in this country, it will help deter terrorists from entering thru our borders that way too.
    I noticed that you are using ag workers as an example. It is true that most Americans won’t do those kinds of jobs. For that I think we need a temporary guest workers program when the crops are in. No one is disputing this need. But even the illegals don’t want to do those jobs anymore. They just move unto better paying jobs such as the construction industry and undercut Americans for less pay. Americans have always done construction jobs. Temporary work visas that only allow the legal immigrant to do ag work would be the answer for any ag worker shortages and more automation would also be a viable answer.
    Our immigration policies should be based on what is best for this country and it’s citizens, not the immigrant.

  20. Nanette said:

    #1 I never said they shouldn’t be afraid, can we try to remain in context? I was disputing your contention that none of them avoid healthcare because of fear.
    #2 The Social Security administration has reported the net benefit of those unclaimable monies (not me). They estimate $6 billion to $7 billion in Social Security tax revenue and about $1.5 billion in Medicare taxes are paid in and unclaimable. Wouldn’t it be more useful to us if these people were legal, guest workers, and their contributions went towards their medical care, rather than social security they’ll never be eligible for? Wouldn’t it be better if we knew WHO they were, WHERE they were, and WHAT they were doing?
    #3 Lets not group terrorism and illegal immigration into the same topic. They are separate issues. Give me break! Do you really think a fence will keep terrorists out?! (much less a determined illegal alien) The terrorists entered our country with visas, and educated themselves here, in our country, 45 minutes from my home, LEGALLY. If you build a fence, they’ll either enter again with a visa, or sneak in through Canada. The fence was NEVER really designed to combat terrorism, or we’d be putting one up between us and Canada as well.
    #4 If you READ what I wrote, you’d have seen that I SAID our immigration policies should be what is best for OUR country, OUR citizens, but after an actual analysis of what the true impacts will be from whatever decisions are made.
    I never once said I support ILLEGAL immigration. I said there is OBVIOUSLY a problem with the policy as it stands now, and the long-term solution should be a well-thought-out, well researched one. One possibility being the suggestion you noted above.

  21. Frank said:

    You still haven’t provided any government statistics that claim that illegal immigration is an OVERALL net gain in taxes vs costs. There is a lot more to this issue than SS taxes withheld.
    Sorry, but my stance on this issue is to pass the SAVE ACT whereby it becomes mandatory for employers to check the validity of their workers. Most illegals will self-deport without jobs replacing them with American workers for a fair wage.
    Then and only then should we determine how many additional foreign “legal” workers we might need while keeping in mind our population growth.
    I am not calling illegal aliens looking for work, terrorists. But they are both entering thru mostly our southern border according to our FBI Director. We should take all necessary steps to secure our borders, ports and airspace for that reason. We should also be careful who we give visas too and make sure when they expire that they are returned to their home countries.
    Yes, there has been a problem but it isn’t with our immigration laws or policies it is the fact that they weren’t enforced as they should have been.

  22. Nanette said:

    Last post for me Frank. :)
    Just for clarity’s sake. I do not believe that illegal immigrants contributions 100% pay their own way. I simply contend that their costs to us are probably not as high as what popular opinion would expect. There are positives and negatives. Goodness, the increased costs in our recent policing efforts alone! And our government estimates that about 75% of the illegal immigrants pay the payroll taxes I mentioned before with a much higher number contributing to the property and sales tax coffers obviously, so that still leaves 25% who don’t.
    You say you’d like government statistics on the subject. Well then, you just made my point FOR me. Since what I’ve tried to say all along, is that our government SHOULD study the issue. An impact study should be done. Until it is, there is nothing to support your contention that they cost us more than they save us, and nothing to support mine that they may not.
    The SAVE ACT sounds ideal, but one problem I foresee is that employers will have to rely on a government bureaucracy to validate workers for them, one which often moves at a snails pace which may put American businesses at a disadvantage in the marketplace. Of course, who knows? This may mean the gov’t has to hire more workers to keep up with the task, which will create new jobs, and be good for the economy. As usual, one change impacts many others, that’s why I’d like to see a thoughtful impact study done. Thanks for the banter and your thoughtful responses. Have a great 2008.

  23. Frank said:

    Nanette, it doesn’t matter what your “opinion” is on taxes vs costs of illegal immigration anymore than it matters what my “opinion” is. The bottom line is that this is about the violation of our immigration laws. But there have been studies done by our local, state and federal governments on this.
    We have to start somewhere in making the employers accountable for hiring illegal workers and getting them off their payrolls. Of course with any type of enforcement of any of our laws there will be costs associated with it but if we are to remain a nation of laws it is the cost of “doing business” so to speak. The alternative would be chaos and disaster.
    Thank you for your polite and civil replies. I always appreciate it when adults do that. There can be no resolve to problems with insults.

  24. Nanette said:

    So… I wasn’t going to post more, but I came across an article I thought you might find interesting. (I especially resented the “stopping short of selected golf course communities”, I mean, either it’s important, or it’s not!)
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-080115fence,0,6983165.story?coll=chi_tab01_layout And yes I know what you mean, I hate when these type of posts dissolve into name-calling (the last resort of someone unable to reason).
    Take care!

  25. Jax said:

    Frank is absolutely right!
    What part of “illegal” can’t those who disagree understand?

  26. Richard Grabman said:

    Your first commentator is the ubiquitous “Eyes of Texas” who hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about. Yes, a large number of the U.S. residents in Mexico are “illegals”. Most that I know overstay their visas, or engage in commercial activities without propert documentation. It’s more common than Eyes thinks (I was one of them for a year or so… and knew plenty of others).
    BTW, Marisa… I’m moving to Mexico myself (again) — legally. Basic health care is unaffordable in the U.S. and, with increasing government intrusion on our private lives here in America (and especially here in South Texas — something “Eyes of Texas” seems to think is good), I’m outta here!

  27. Frank said:

    I condone no illegal entry into any country and that would include any Americans entering Mexico illegally.
    It is however, up to each country to enforce it’s own immigration laws. If their government doesn’t, then the citizens pay for it unfairly.

  28. Nanette said:

    Frank, I don’t know if you’ll come back to this article or not, but I wanted to leave this link here for you, since it’s the only way I know to reach you. It demonstrates some of the reasons I’m concerned for our citizens. (And I wanted to be clear, it’s not for the ILLEGAL’S sake that I think we should be more careful on this issue, it’s for our OWN sake.)
    http://www.kansas.com/611/story/288910.html

  29. Alisa said:

    National Transportation Safety Board recently divulged they had funded a project with the US auto makers for the past five years.

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