This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Doug Massey on How Politics Can Trump Theories of Migration

Readers of the last several editions of my population text will be familiar with the set of migration theories laid out over the years by Doug Massey and his collaborators. Readers of my text and of this blog will also be familiar with Massey's recognition of the fact that the steep rise in the number of undocumented immigrants in the US was not predicted by migration theory. Rather, it is an artifact of the political decision in the US to militarize the US-Mexico border, thus effectively eliminating the circular migration that used to exist between Mexico and the US. The more tightly sealed border trapped millions of undocumented immigrants in the US, because it is now too expensive and dangerous to go back and forth as previous generations did subsequent to the end of the guest-worker programs just before the 1965 Immigration Act was passed.

Now Doug Massey has laid out the story of how migration theory has been trumped (no pun intended--but it fits) by politics. Thanks to Philippe Bocquier for pointing out a paper published last month by Massey in Migration Letters. The consequences of this have been enormous, as Massey points out in his concluding paragraph:

The transformation of Mexican immigration from circularity to settlement and its geographic spread throughout the United States between 1986 and 2008 has transformed the social demography of the United States, increasing the percentage of Latinos to 17.3% and making them by far the largest minority group in the United States. Moreover, no matter what the future of Mexican migration might be, this transformation is already built into the demographic structure of the United States for in 2012 less than half of all U.S. births were to non-Hispanic whites while a quarter were Latino (Passel, Livingston, and Cohn, 2012). This remarkable transformation arose from a dynamic socio-political process that was completely untheorized by prevailing models of international migration but which in two decades will nonetheless turn the United States into a “minority-majority” nation in which European origin whites no longer predominate.
So, the point is that when politicians complain about these changing demographics, they have to recognize that the explanation lies with politics and cannot be explained away as events that were beyond the control of politicians and now, finally, must be dealt with by politicians. At the same time, of course, it is the long-term decline in Mexican fertility that is drying up the stream of migrants. That is a demographic phenomenon over which American politicians thankfully had very little influence.

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