Given the new political configuration in the 112th Congress, how can the already worn-down immigration policy discourse escape its current stalemate? Devoting more attention to immigration’s root causes in Latin America is one way to expand the discussion and perhaps create opportunities for compromise.

It makes sense that the immigration debate has traditionally been focused on domestic issues such as legalization options and border enforcement, but the sources of immigration are outside the United States.

Until we address the “push” factors in Latin America—and particularly in Mexico—which generate millions of workers looking for jobs in the United States, we will not be addressing immigration reform comprehensively. Looking at root causes has been a secondary part of the immigration reform debate—if it’s discussed at all—but there are signs of increased interest in this component of immigration reform.

In order to draw attention to some of the root causes of migration, Bread for the World Institute published a policy brief this month, Development and Migration in Rural Mexico, which analyzes the sources of migration in rural Mexico and provides concrete options on how to address these at their source.

The narrative starts with an analysis of rural Mexico as a major source of unauthorized migration and the lack of action by the United States in addressing migration at its source. Specifically, the policy analysis focuses on the State Department’s Mérida Initiative—the $1.8 foreign aid package to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean that is targeted almost exclusively on assistance to the region’s police and military organizations. Supporting Mexico’s security agencies in their fight against the drug cartels is important, but the U.S. foreign aid agenda for the largest migrant-sending nations in the world does not include a substantial program for reducing migration pressures. The report argues that the reduction of migration pressures—particularly in rural Mexico where poverty and migration are concentrated—should be a U.S. foreign assistance priority in migrant-sending nations.

Because development projects implemented with the explicit goal of reducing migration pressures are rare, the report also highlights one of the few projects which explicitly seeks to reduce poverty and inequality in rural Mexico so that farmers and their families do not need to migrate in order to support their households. Existing projects that work at the nexus of development and migration should be formally evaluated—and additional pilot projects should be launched—so that USAID and the international development community can build a compendium of effective practices and project models that are effective in reducing migration pressures.

This report proposes only preliminary steps toward analyzing and addressing the root causes of migration, but the current domestic stalemate in immigration policy means that it is an opportune time for immigration analysts, development experts, and policymakers to allocate increased attention to this long-neglected aspect of immigration policy as well as federal solutions to our domestic immigration problems.

Photo by krembo1.