Complicating the Narrative: Mexican-US Migration | By Anushka Mehta

Soon after the U.S. Presidential election, the Mexican foreign ministry announced a plan to provide additional services to Mexican citizens living in the United States. Al Jazeera reports that the beefed up support services include consular services, passport processing, birth certificate and consular identification card processing, and 24-hour legal advice. These services are intended to “help Mexicans avoid ‘abuses and fraud’ in the US.” This focus on legal help and aiding Mexican citizens with documentation can be viewed as a response to US rhetoric regarding ‘undocumented Mexican immigrants,’ also leading the ministry to urge Mexicans in the US to “avoid any conflict situation” and “stay out of trouble with the law.”

A woman talks to her relatives across a fence separating Mexico and the US

A woman talks to her relatives across a fence separating Mexico and the US. Image by Jorge Duenes / Reuters

However, while we still read news about the US-Mexican relationship, Trump’s famous ‘wall,’ and the Mexican response to Trump’s victory, it is easy to forget that in fact, “Mexican migration to the US is in decline.” While there is a sizable Mexican population in the US, and it is admirable that the Mexican foreign ministry is ramping up services to its citizens in the country, the rhetoric  above also feeds into the idea that Mexican migration patterns (and policies) are reactive to US forces. However, Jeffrey Cohen and Bernardo Rios describe the decline in Mexican migration to the US not simply in terms of “more barriers at the border, [but also due to] changing demography, economy.” Cohen and Rios analyze patterns of internal Mexican migration, revealing the long history of Mexican migration from rural to urban areas, vis-a-vis Mexican migration to the US (which they argue is a more recent ‘fad’).

While reading Cohen and Rios’ work though, it is striking to me that while they are exposing a long history of Mexican internal migration, to the effect of disrupting the narrative of Mexican (illegal) migration to the US, even Oaxacans who migrated to Mexican cities from rural areas compare their migration to the potential of moving across the border to the North.

Despite the complexities and diversity of the Mexican migrant history, Mexican-to-US migration is a difficult narrative to break away from.

Take Don Maurico, for example. Maurico compares his choice to migrate ‘without leaving home’ to the expenses associated with the US, and how higher salaries mean nothing when the cost of living is so much higher. As he succinctly describes, “Why would I want to go and have to pay hundreds of dollars for a toaster? I’m happy earning a little right here.”

Juxtaposing the Mexican foreign ministry’s response to protecting its citizens in the US with the reality of the decline in Mexican migration to the US provides us with tools to begin to repaint the narrative of Mexican migration. While simultaneously acknowledging the large population of Mexicans in the US, and their fears of a Trump presidency, we are also able to place Mexican-US migration as a smaller piece of a much longer, richer Mexican history of mobility.


Al Jazeera. (2016, November 17). Mexico: New plan to help citizens in US after Trump win. Al Jazeera. Retrieved from

Cohen, J. and Rios, B. (2016, November 27). Mexicans are migrating, just not across the US border. The Conversation. Retrieved from


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