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Accelerated migration as a symptom of restructuring of both the Mexican and US economies

Although Mexican migration to the United States began in the late nineteenth century, migration flows originating in the Central Mexican state of Puebla date only to the mid-twentieth century (Rivera Sánchez, 2004; Smith, 2006). In Pahuatlán, for example, a few dozen men participated in the Bracero Program (1942-1964), a guest worker program supplying the United States with male agricultural laborers during and after World War II. However, there was no continuity between these men’s experiences and the massive, undocumented flow of the last 30 years, which is the focus of this book. In Zapotitlán, international migration emerged in the 1980s. Once the flows from these two towns began in the 1980s, they expanded rapidly, incorporating wide swaths of the local population in a short period. Following Binford (2003) we refer to this pattern as accelerated migration, whereby a significant proportion of the adult population (about 30 percent) acquired international migration experience within two decades, from the 1980s to the early 2000s. A symptom of the economic restructuring of both the Mexican and US economies (Binford, 2004), accelerated migration characterized the migration flows of perhaps hundreds of towns in Central Mexico. In contrast, in Western Mexico, the traditional sending area of migrants to the United States since the nineteenth century, the growth of migration flows occurred at a much slower pace (Massey, Goldring, & Durand, 1994).2

Restructuring and massive, accelerated flows contributed to the unprecedented growth of Mexican migration to the US in the last third of the twentieth century (Massey, Durand, & Malone, 2002; Zúñiga & Hernández-León, 2005). From 1990 to 2000, the migrant flow increased ten times in comparison with previous decades (Arroyo-Alejandre, Berumen-Sandoval, & Rodríguez-Álvarez, 2010; BBVA Bancomer & CONAPO, 2014). The number of children born in the US from Mexican-origin families equaled the number of new immigrants from Mexico: 4.7 million. From 2000 to 2010, the number of children born inthe US from Mexican-origin parents reached 7.2 million, surpassing the 4.2 million new immigrants (Pew Hispanic Center, 2011). This changing sociodemographic profile of migrants was the result of the overlap of three patterns of mobility: the continuing migration of unaccompanied men, the growing number of families moving together and, finally, unaccompanied, single women who migrated to the United States and started families there.

The vast majority of Pahuatecos/as and Zapotitecos/as incorporated into these massive flows to the United States at the end of the twentieth century. They, along with millions of other Mexican migrants, arrived to the United States after the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, an amnesty that legalized 2.3 million Mexicans who had worked and resided continuously in the country since 1982? Without legal status, this workforce labored and lived in the shadows (Chavez, 1992); their condition of deportability (De Genova, 2002) cheapened their labor-power. Their “illegality,” disposability and vulnerability shaped their labor market insertion and their minimal conditions of social reproduction.

Accelerated migration was sustained by the relatively porous border that prevailed until the mid-2000s, although thousands of people lost their lives in the extreme conditions of the border region (Cornelius, 2001). Up until the mid-20003, migrants apprehended by the border patrol were deported back to the border area in Mexico and re-attempted clandestine crossings until they successfully crossed and reached their destination in the US interior (Espenshade, 1994). In this process, which Heyman termed “the voluntary-departure complex,” the US appeared to be making an impressive number of arrests, protecting the country from illegal “aliens” while continuing to import Mexican labor on a large scale (Heyman, 1995). The porosity also allowed for circular migration at intervals of several years among undocumented adults and children.

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