Immigration expert Sheila Croucher finds irony in latest statistics

Sheila Croucher

Sheila Croucher

By Carole Johnson, university news and communications

In a recent U.S. News & World Report article on best places to retire, Miami University's Sheila Croucher commented on an irony occurring right before our eyes: The number of Mexicans migrating to the U.S. has decreased while the number of Americans immigrating to Mexico has increased.  

Croucher, Distinguished Professor of Global and Intercultural Studies, researches and teaches on topics that include cultural and political belonging, globalization, and privileged migration. She is the author of The Other Side of the Fence: American Migrants in Mexico (University of Texas Press, 2009).  

Although U.S News Best Countries reports one million Americans living in Mexico, Croucher said knowing exactly how many is impossible because our government does not track those statistics. She believes the number is higher.  

Q: What is causing this increased migration of American citizens to Mexico?  

A: Historically, Americans have immigrated to Mexico for a number of reasons. For instance, in the 1800s, fugitive slaves fled to Mexico. Later, as World War II was ending, citizens fled persecution during the McCarthy Era. In the 1960s, many hippies and artists found refuge in Mexico, and many protesting the Vietnam War also went to Mexico.  

Q: What about today's immigrants, or expats?  

A: First, we could do an entire piece on why American citizens abroad are called expats and not immigrants. Instead, I’ll answer your question. There are four main reasons. The first is demographics. The baby boomer generation (one of the largest in our history) is retiring. The second reason, and the biggest reason, is economics. Since the recession of 2008, it's more affordable to live in Mexico.  

Q: What do you mean by more affordable?

A: The dollar is worth more in Mexico. Retirees especially find they can live better on their Social Security checks than they can in the United States: Health care and prescriptions in the United States are expensive. Some experts call these people "economic refugees." I don't like that term, but what retirees tell me is that they can afford much more and live healthier lives in Mexico. They can purchase larger homes, hire gardeners and maids. They also feel better by eating healthier and walking more in the warmer climate.  

Q: What is the third reason?  

A: Many Americans just want to get away from today's hustle and bustle — to get out of the rat race. They want that "nostalgic" America where everyone knows their neighbors. They are drawn to the Mexican cultural appreciation of family and gathering in public squares in the evenings. Many marketing materials tout the message: "Find the American Dream in Mexico."  

Q: So that leaves the fourth reason, which is?  

A: Technology. There are listservs and blogs, magazine reports and even Home and Garden Television programs providing the how-tos of moving to Mexico. You don't have to be as adventurous today as in the past. It's all spelled out for you. In addition, it is much easier to get the proper documentation to move to Mexico than it is for Mexican citizens to get into the United States. In fact, the Mexican government provides incentives to Americans by creating special Visa categories.  

Q: What about the danger factor? Do the expats feel safe?  

A: Yes, they believe they are safe, and I believe they are safe. The danger is tied to the drug cartels, and unless you are tied to this, you are safe. In fact the murder rates are actually lower than in our big cities. There may be petty crime but nothing dangerous. The only thing people grumble about is the practice of "the bribe." It's in the Mexican culture as a way of simply just doing business. There's no danger.

Q: Are there any other pros or cons to moving to Mexico?  

A: I like to look at both sides. The higher rate of Americans migrating to Mexico is causing increases in property values as they buy up prime real estate. But, they are also creating jobs, thus helping to improve the standard of living. It's the same case made for Mexicans migrating to the United States. They work in jobs that ultimately help our economy and increase our standard of living. The difference between the two is in the ease with which this movement happens.