NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 9, 2005

Policy makers on both sides of the border are growing concerned about where the 10 million Mexicans living in the United States will retire, says the New York Times. Neither Mexico nor the United States is prepared to deal with millions of poor, aging immigrants.

Given the nature of movements across the border, there are no definitive statistics on return flows of older migrants to Mexico, says the Times. Most illegal immigrants in the United States have yet to reach the retirement age, but when they do, their choices are likely to be different from those of the current crop of elderly.

Factors influencing their decisions:

  • Most of today's illegal immigrants paid taxes over their working lives to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but under current law they are not entitled to any benefits.
  • Living in Mexico is more affordable than living in the United States and almost half of Mexican immigrants over 50 own property in Mexico, according to a survey by the Pew Hispanic Center.
  • Family ties can pull immigrants either way; the probability of return is much higher for the 58 percent of immigrants over 50 who left spouses back in Mexico than for the 24 percent who have spouses in the United States.

However, the continuous fortification of the southern border might have the unintended consequence of encouraging aging immigrants to stay. Douglas Massey, a professor of sociology at Princeton who heads the Mexican Migration Project, says that tougher border controls are changing the nature of illegal immigration.

Unwilling to face the border patrol and the desert crossing more often than necessary, illegal immigrants are returning home less than they used to. Instead, they are bringing their wives and children to the United States, becoming more settled in their new land.

Source: Eduardo Porter and Elisabeth Malkin, "Mexicans at Home Abroad," New York Times, August 4, 2005.

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