They're here, they're Mexican and lawmakers aren't doing anyone any good by scapegoating their new residents.
That was the take-home message last week, when Chicago-based researcher Rob Paral visited Kansas City to present his new study about Mexican immigration in the Midwest.
Bottom line: Our neighbors from the South are coming to Missouri and surrounding states in record numbers and the overwhelming majority aren't arriving through legal channels.
A research fellow at the University of Notre Dame and the American Immigration Law Foundation, Paral published his study "Mexican Immigration in the Midwest: Meanings and Implications" earlier this year. Last week, he highlighted his findings for a packed room at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
So what do these numbers mean and why do they matter? Paral explained.
First, before you start to argue that Mexicans are stealing American jobs, he warned, consider this. U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that, between 2000 and 2010, the largest area of job growth -- nearly 43 percent -- has been in the lowest skilled sectors that require very little education or training. So all those Americans with college degrees and technical schooling are competing for a shrinking piece of the labor pie. "We've prepared our native population for jobs that don't exist," Paral said.
According to Paral, Mexicans are wiling to fill that gap, but immigration laws are stacked against them. "There's a mismatch between our immigration system and our labor system," he said. Because the majority of Mexicans immigrating to the Midwest are working in manufacturing, not agriculture, they can't apply for specific work visas like migrants to farm states like California. The most viable option is a family-sponsored visa -- but those are capped at 20,000 per year. And, as Paral writes in his study, "The 20,000 cap is the same for Mongolia or Mozambique as it is for Mexico. It is not adjusted to suit the different volume of petitions or the fact that Mexico is neighbor to the United States."
"So it's not that Mexican immigrants avoid the legal immigration system but that the legal immigration system avoids Mexicans," Paral told the UMKC crowd.
What's the solution? Recognizing reality, Paral suggests, and making use of our new and growing population of Mexican Midwesterners. "Legalizing immigrants is an economic development strategy," he said. "Local governments shoot themselves in the foot when they are punitive towards immigrants."
Especially since immigrants are the only newcomers moving to places like, Milan, Missouri, where the local kids are unlikely to stick around to work in the meatpacking plant.
"In the Midwest," Paral emphasized, "the demographic future lies with immigrants."
Read his full report here.