Immigration from Latin America (and specifically Mexico) has slowed and changed drastically since 2005. An analysis by Pew has shown that about the same number of Hispanics immigrate as return to their countries, creating a net zero growth of immigration as recently as 2012.
There are many reasons why this is, starting with, in the mid-2000’s, the crash of the housing bubble which removed an important driver for immigration: construction jobs. The slowing economy in the U.S. combined with a growing economy in Mexico, an increase in college graduation rates in Mexico and a decrease in fertility, as well as the increased difficulty and cost of actually immigrating, have all contributed to this net zero growth.
One dynamic that is bucking that trend is in the American border towns, which are absorbing more immigrants, but this time, of a different socioeconomic stratum. According to Viridiana Rios, Harvard University School of Government, the number of “investor visas” (E1 /E2) granted to Mexican citizens climbed almost fourfold in the last five years compared to the previous five years. Many are business owners who, finding the climate hostile on their side of the border, relocated their business to the U.S. side.
According to Rios, the homicide rates in Mexican border towns have dramatically increased since 2006 due to territorial conflicts among cartels. In Juarez, the homicide rate was over 130 per 100,000. Steven Pinker, in his most recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, noted that as homicide rates exceed 100 per 100,000, there is a higher likelihood that over the course of a decade someone close to you will be killed.
While the economic incentives to immigrate have been reduced, those living in violence-prone areas of Mexico and with the means to do so, are relocating within Mexico to safer environs as well as to the U.S. These are more likely to be college-educated, middle- and upper middle-class Mexicans.
What this means is that people who do come over tend to come from a higher socioeconomic stratum than previous waves of immigrants. As long as the drug violence continues in parts of Mexico, combined with increased college attendance rates in Mexico, the type of immigrant we’ll see is more upwardly mobile, educated and tech-savvy than previous waves of immigrants. They buy houses, have higher disposable incomes and are transforming the U.S. side of the border from San Ysidro to Laredo.
The border towns are blurring, and the distinctions between U.S. and Mexico are blurring for these citizens who live back and forth across the border. Some own properties in both countries. Some work in one country and sleep in another. This has been happening in border towns globally since the dawn of time, but the new dynamic seems to be accelerating this.
As marketers what does this mean to us? Well, marketers are becoming more savvy about targeting the Hispanic community in the U.S. However, this more regional dynamic poses unique marketing challenges. These are binational, bicultural consumers who are not entirely like the rest of the Hispanic market. They tend to shop higher end brands, are more tech-savvy and have higher disposable incomes. They are citizens of a bi-national region and feel equally at ease in both nations, though Culturally, they also exert a bigger influence on the values and behaviors of those regions as the “movers and shakers” of their respective societies. We should be paying attention to them.