Photo: Juarez Drug Violence
Rodolfo Rubio Salas is a professor and researcher at the Juárez City campus of Colegio de la Frontera Norte where he has been for 16 years. He specializes in border migration studies and affirms that behind all the numbers about the violence-propelled exodus of people from Juárez into El Paso there is a lot of politics and little research.
P: What do you think about all that’s said about border migration in this region?
R: “Look, I’m a persona non grata in many places around here. There was a time at the beginning of 2009 when many meetings were held with the federal government present where you would attend seriously because research is a serious matter. Suddenly somebody would shout out ‘Well, 500,000 people have left here.’ But when you asked that person where they got that figure they didn’t know. For 500,000 people to have left you would also need for all the buses, planes and cars up the yazoo to go. Besides, this person also said that this number of people had left during the last six months! I have been studying this many years and it seems to me very serious to throw out numbers without verification. People think they can toss out some figure and I as a demographer have to accept it. They throw out some statistic to show the federal government our dire situation. But I already know the federal government. I have been present in meetings with Secretary of Foreign Relations (Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores) and the Labor Secretary (Secretaría de Trabajo) where they laugh at Juárez residents, not at what they want, but because when the government asks them to justify what they are asking for, they begin to use this type of information. When the Secretary of Foreign Relations calls me and says: ‘Look, the Americans say this, the mayor tells me this other thing to triple the budget. What’s your analysis?’ It is my serious opinion that for the last 10 years Juárez has been a stagnant city. But that is not the outrageousness we were talking about. The conclusions are either excessively pessimistic or excessively optimistic for political motives; in Mexico’s case it’s to try and get more resources using unrealistic numbers.”
P: Recently several different statistics have been stated about the exact number of people who have come to live in El Paso. El Paso Police Department said 30,000, while the Autonomous University of Juárez (Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez-UACJ) conducted a poll and stated possibly 120,000 people may have moved from the southern side of the border to the northern side of the border. Exactly what’s with these numbers?
R: “After the police issued its data I called them several times but they were never able to tell me what method they used to gather their data. It’s quite complicated. It seems to me what is lacking is a comparison of U.S. data with Mexican data. I believe that when we are able to use the databases and see how the information relates we will have a much clearer idea of how many people left or not. Then there is another detail that as a demographer I was particularly interested in that Juárez appeared as the Mexican city that had the largest number, proportionately, of what was categorized as temporary use housing. What does temporary use mean? That people are living on both sides of the border! Evidently here we have a style of bi-national life where people easily move from one place to the other. We would have to see how many of those who apparently abandoned the city and went to El Paso are people who continuously move between both environments and are a factor that will not ever permit knowing with any certainty how many have left. To leave means leaving one place to go live in another. Those figures then cannot be counted in the strict sense as having left. Perhaps they are renting or bought a house over there but have not necessarily abandoned this city.
“Look, I do believe that the number of people who left, not so much to El Paso but to the U.S., could be more or less around 30,000 to 50,000 during the last three years in total terms. And, I insist, I say they went to the U.S. because we have studies that tell us that people went to Nevada, Colorado, and to New Mexico. They didn’t all go to El Paso. In demographic terms the number from 30,000 to 50,000 people that left to the U.S. seems to me to be a safe logical number.”
P: What are your indicators to validate safe this figure of between 30,000 to 50,000 people?
R: “I just looked at the overall data of El Paso’s population growth. According to U.S. census data there was no exceptional nor extraordinary (growth), in fact the State of Texas grew more than El Paso County. It seems to me those who said 120,000 people had left exaggerated. For 120,000 people to go to El Paso implies that its population would have increased by 20 percent, that’s only the ones that left here. That’s a bit of an exaggeration. The natural growth of Juárez during the entire decade was approximately 240,000 and the data that we are seeing is that most of those that left the city really didn’t go to the U.S. Therefore, with the study we have is that approximately 150,000 left back to the interior of the country. The comparison with U.S. data and ours here of the people that returned, and a little with the study done by UACJ it is within that 30,000 to 50,000 range.
“With respect to that other type of flow that comes into the border cities with intention to cross into the U.S., in Juárez it’s quite low. Because barely one percent of the total of immigrants that come to the border to cross without documents into the US try to cross through Juárez. American authorities attribute it to the clear border enforcement policy, we have found that is not the real reason. The real explanation is that there is no work in the U.S.”
P: What do those numbers and patterns tell you about the short, medium and long-term future for the socioeconomic infrastructure, migration and the barrios of Juárez?
R: “I believe that these two crises of the last 10 years will continue to hit Juárez. If the city continues to depend on twin-plant work it will face recurring crises. I am not the only one who says this. Those who do economic studies state that the city must take a course toward more economic diversification, that the twin-plant cannot be the only economic engine for the labor market. But on the other hand reading the slow demographic growth of the last decade therein is also a positive note. Even as the demographic growth was increasing rapidly during the 80s, that growth generated some brutal infrastructure deficiencies. I believe this slow population growth will diminish those infrastructure deficiencies the city has suffered and somehow will permit the city to put on a new face in spite of all the insecurity issues. And I don’t know it is difficult to measure, you don’t know when it’s going to decrease, how much those of us who stay here can take it. That’s very difficult to predict.
“When the census data is available for us to see we will be able to extrapolate some things. When the information is in the books we will be able to offer some hypothesis. What are those hypotheses? One: The newest barrios in the city are the ones most uninhabited, especially those of low socioeconomic level as well as those of a high socioeconomic level where you find the housing that could be categorized as temporary. The other thing that’s happening in the city is the barrios that were not gated but are becoming gated. They are building walls and installing securities that are disrupting normal urban activity. These are the changes that in large part I believe are going to be reflected in the census.”
P: What about border immigration to El Paso?
R: “With respect to flight into the U.S., I believe eventually there will be new restrictions by the authorities. It seems to me that quite a few people have left here to go to El Paso but don’t necessarily have documents to live there. I believe there will come a time when the authorities will implement stronger measures to detect those people. I think they are already doing it but not in a very clear or tangible way but they have begun to do it. Then we have all these kids that historically have been born in El Paso but live here or study here, as they reach working age absolutely all of them will go live in the U.S. That has been the historical pattern, but (now) there are more of them. In other words, each generation is bigger each time, so that will increase the number of people who will leave here to go there.