Posted on November 21, 2011

A&M Sociologist Sees Shift in Immigration Trends

Jeannie Kever, Chron, November 19, 2011

Dudley Poston, a sociologist at Texas A&M University, began to study China in the early 1980s, when that country started sending larger numbers of students to the United States. Helping a handful of Chinese students learn the demographics of their own country was contagious; most of his scholarly work now involves the Asian nation. Poston says his work, coupled with research from Princeton University’s Mexican Migration Project showing a dramatic drop in illegal immigration from Mexico, suggests Chinese immigrants may replace those from south of the border as the go-to workers for landscaping, construction, agriculture and other unskilled labor here. {snip}

Q: Why might Chinese immigrants overtake Mexican immigrants in low-wage, unskilled jobs here?

A: Mexico for decades has supplied our country with low-wage laborers, legal and illegal, but that’s grinding to a halt. Increased border surveillance and high unemployment are keeping people away from the United States. Other things are holding people in Mexico. They have a lower unemployment rate than we do. And what a lot of people don’t realize is that their fertility is dropping to 2.2 children per woman. It used to be six or seven children a few decades ago. There are fewer young people available (to take jobs), and fewer mouths to feed. There are about 4 million or 5 million undocumented Mexican immigrants in our country (and about 11 million illegal immigrants total). They pick up garbage, work construction, agriculture–all the things in big cities that the local people don’t want to do. Who’s going to do that work? There’s already a network of migration from China to our country; probably 200,000 to 300,000 undocumented Chinese are here. They’re mainly on the East Coast, in Houston and Los Angeles. They’re mainly doing restaurant work. Undocumented Mexicans are much more visible.

Q: Why would they leave China for the United States?

A: You have all of these rural-to-urban migrants inside China who are essentially driving the Chinese economy, doing all the work in the big cities, doing all the construction, the nanny work, the low-level jobs. They’re not going to do that forever. The economy is starting to slow down in China. The first people to lose their jobs will be these rural-to-urban migrants. In China, to move from one place to another, you have to get permission at both ends. That never happens, so people move unofficially. There are already 10 million unemployed rural-to-urban migrants. There’s already a China-to-U.S. network of undocumented migrants.

Q: Won’t Mexican immigration rebound if the U.S. economy improves?

A: If the economy improves, you’d still have the increased border surveillance and the things in Mexico that will keep people there. The only reason anybody is coming (to the United States) is economic opportunities. If you have those in your home country, you’re going to stay there. Chinese immigration isn’t crossing the river. Most is by airplane, with false or stolen passports. Most Chinese immigrants are flown into New York City or San Francisco or Los Angeles. Making taller fences isn’t going to keep out the Chinese.