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Why People Make the Hard Choice to Migrate – Part 1

La versión en español está disponible aquí.

We have been hearing much about migration issues lately.

It seems that many people in the U.S. have had a sudden, hard and challenging awakening to this issue as many migrant families have attempted to enter the country through the southern border and, unfortunately, have been separated.

I will not describe the suffering, pain and trauma that these migrant families are going through here.

We have heard many stories about this in the news and have heard the cry of little children as they keep asking for their parents and the desperation of the parents as they are helpless to respond to the fate of their kids.

While I truly appreciate the mobilizations to protest, pray and raise awareness about this issue, and the effects that they are having in both U.S. politics and the collective awareness of citizens, I hope we do not become “migration saturated,” and in a couple of weeks move on to the next social issue emphasized by news broadcasts.

For sure, the media will move to the next issue (this is how they make their business). However, I hope that as individual Christians and churches, we remain engaged, look beyond these mobilizations and start doing something that confronts the roots of the migration issue.

But before we enter deeper into this topic, let me share that migration is extremely hard.

As an immigrant myself (a privileged one I must say because I have never been hungry, thirsty or without shelter, documents, money or work), I know how hard it is to migrate to another country.

It is tough to start anew, surrounded by unknown people, some friendly and some hostile, and by different customs, habits, values, traditions and often a new language.

If it was hard for me, even with all of my privileges, I cannot imagine how hard it is to migrate for people who lack documents, money, a safe mode of traveling and often basic resources to survive, such as shelter, food and water.

If it is so hard and uncertain, why do they migrate?

Migration is a worldwide issue. While in the United States the focus is on the migration that happens on the southern border of the country, right now Europe is dealing with a massive wave of migrants coming from Africa and the Middle East.

It is important also to recognize that while some people, like me, migrate due to educational or vocational reasons, most people migrate due to economic issues (migrants) and political crises (refugees).

Let’s explore these issues:

I am convinced that the major reason for migration is economic. We have a worldwide economy that favors some and condemns many others to a life of insufficiency, even for their basic needs, such as access to clean water, simple food, basic education, clothing, housing and health care.

Let me offer this example. Every time I cross the U.S. southern border by car to go to Monterrey, Mexico, my hometown, I must pass by a manufacturer of electronic items located approximately 10 minutes by car from the border line.

Based on the brand they advertise, it is obvious to me that the items they produce are sold in the United States and that the company should also reside in the United States. So, what are they doing on the Mexican side of the border?

Mexico’s minimum wage is $4.71 per day while Texas’ is $7.25 per hour. If I, as the owner of a business, hire a person to work in my U.S. business for a full day, I will have to pay him or her approximately $58 a day.

If I hire a Mexican person in Mexico to do the same job, I will pay him or her $4.71 a day. Thus, the business owner gets to keep $53.29 a day per worker.

Of course, on both sides of the border this business owner has to pay some kind of benefits for full-time employees, other costs of production and taxes.

So, if you are a business owner, you want to produce your product at third-world country wages, and you want to sell your product at first-world country prices. Great deal, right? Unfair, of course!

From the worker perspective, he or she thinks, “I want to go where people are making $58 a day. It is the same work, same hours, but this additional money will raise my life standards and will provide a better future for my family.”

Now, Mexico is a well-developed country that has a decent, productive economy, but what happens in other countries where economies are less-developed, minimum wages are even lower or jobs are non-existent? Then, with more reasons, people want to migrate to where the well-paid jobs are.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part two is available here.

Nora Lozano

Nora O. Lozano is professor of theological studies at Baptist University of the Américas and executive director of the Christian Latina Leadership Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

Nora O. Lozano es profesora de estudios teológicos en la Universidad Bautista de las Américas (Baptist University of the Américas) y directora ejecutiva del Instituto Cristiano para Líderes Latinas (Christian Latina Leadership Institute) en San Antonio, Texas.