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.
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.
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.
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?