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The "Perfect Storm" Of Mexican Immigration Is Coming To An End

The "Perfect Storm" Of Mexican Immigration Is Coming To An End
The influx of Mexican immigrants to the US in the last 20 years has been likened to an "invasion" by conservative commentators. But an examination of some under-reported demographic and economic facts shows that "invasion" is about to come to an end.
Envision San Diego takes a closer look at illegal immigration, exploring why migrants take big risks to work in the U.S., what happens to the children of deported parents, and how this region benefits from -- and pays a price for -- its unauthorized migrant labor pool.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): This week the U.S. Justice Department filed suit against Arizona's anti-immigration law known as SB-1070. The federal government wants to stop the law from going into effect later this month. Polls show that 60 to 70% of Americans support the Arizona law, which requires local police to check a suspect's legal status. And even among people who don't like the law, there is wide agreement that it grew out of frustration with the federal government's lack of a workable immigration policy. But could it be that this frustration, this new law, and even calls for immigration reform are aimed at a problem that is in the process of changing? There have been dramatic shifts within Mexico in the past 20 years that may themselves reduce the number of immigrants to the U.S. and change the relationship between Mexico and the United States. I’d like to welcome my guests. Gordon Hanson is professor of Economics at UC San Diego. Professor Hanson, welcome to These Days.

GORDON HANSON (Economics Professor, University of California San Diego): Good morning, Maureen. Thanks very much for having me on the show.

CAVANAUGH: And Dowell Myers is professor in the School of Policy, Planning and Development at USC. He’s author of the book “Immigrants and Boomers.” Professor Myers, good morning.

DOWELL MYERS (Professor, School of Policy, Planning and Development, University of Southern California): Good morning. A pleasure to join you.

CAVANAUGH: Now we invite our listeners to join the conversation. In our ongoing immigration debate, have we been ignoring major demographic changes within Mexico? What do you think immigration from Mexico will look like in the next 20 years? Give us a call with your questions and comments, that’s 1-888-895-5727. Professor Myers, you said in a recent Newsweek article that people see the wave of illegal immigration now and it scares the pants off them. That’s a quote. Why do you think we’re having that reaction?

MYERS: Well, I think what we’re doing is we’re extrapolating the trend and imagine it at being an unlimited upward surge that is going to overwhelm America but that trend is really – that imagination is really a false expectation.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Professor Hanson, how does the level of immigration from Mexico during the past 20 years measure up against past immigration waves that we’ve seen?

HANSON: We’ve really been living through an unprecedented period beginning in about 1980. If you go back to as recently as 1970, only a little more than 1% of Mexico’s population had uprooted and moved to the United States. Today, that figure is over 11%. And if you look at young people, say, people in their late teens and early twenties, about 20% of them are moving to the United States. That’s a huge change relative to what we’ve seen in the past where we’ve had ebbs and flows but never a sustained wave.

CAVANAUGH: And what’s been going on inside of Mexico economically that’s made so many people decide to leave and try their luck in the U.S.?

HANSON: Well, in Mexico what we’ve really had is a perfect storm creating pressures for pushing labor out the door and towards the United States. The first part of – the first ingredient in that storm was the tanking of Mexico’s economy in the early 1980s, associated with debt problems, poor macroeconomic management and an international environment which was pretty hard on the country. But as important, if not more important were demographic changes going on in the country that were the opposite of what had been going on in the United States. So as we all know, after World War II, the U.S. had a huge baby boom, increasing birth rates up until about 1960, and then those birth rates really dropped off. What that meant was fewer workers entering the labor force in the 1970s and early 1980s. In Mexico, what happened was a baby boom that kept roaring right through the 1960s and into the 1970s. And that meant large numbers of young people looking for work in the early 1980s right as the economy fell apart.

CAVANAUGH: And, Professor Myers, you categorize the idea of a baby boom in Mexico, and more mothers and more children surviving causing that baby boom, as part of a demographic transition. Explain what that is for us.

MYERS: Well, historically in the world there’s been a transition where, really, it was high mortality, lots of deaths, and high fertility and they balanced out. But over time, starting first in Europe and the U.S. the death rates really fell and after a lag of a couple generations, then birth rates fall. And in the in-between period you have an explosion in population because there’s too many babies relative to deaths. But in the – in Europe and the U.S. death rates came way down, then the fertility rates fell. Now, developing nations are falling behind that trend and they are slower to drop the death rates but they are dropping. And Mexico is now engaged in this dramatic transition where they have lower deaths and now finally are lowering the birth rate. The extraordinary thing, in 1970, there’s 6.8 babies for every Mexican woman. 6.8 babies. Now, 2.1 is kind of break even, balancing the population. Today, Mexico is moving down close to that break even point for the first time. But that transition from 6.8 to 2.1 has not penetrated the American consciousness. We still think Mexicans have 6.8 babies.

CAVANAUGH: Exactly. So we haven’t kept up with what’s been changing in Mexico, is what you’re saying.

MYERS: Yeah, and that surplus number of babies was coming across the border to meet the labor demand that Professor Hanson just outlined. And now, today, as those kids grow up, there won’t be that surplus and we’re not going to have this number of people clamoring to come into America.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Dowell Myers. He’s professor in the School of Policy, Planning and Development at USC. And Gordon Hanson, professor of Economics at UC San Diego. We’re talking about changing demographics in Mexico that may have a profound affect on the future of immigration to the United States. Our number, if you’d like to comment or if you have a question, is 1-888-895-5727. So, Professor Hanson, in a nutshell, what you both seem to be saying is that for about 20 or 25 years, a little longer than a generation, we’ve had what I believe was characterized either by you or someone else in the article I’m referring to, as a perfect storm of population and economic factors that have been driving immigration from Mexico to the U.S. Would you agree with that, Professor Hanson?

HANSON: Absolutely. And what we’re going to see over the course of the next decade or two is that one of the elements of that storm, those population pressures, are really going to start to ease. The impact of the changes in fertility patterns in Mexico that Professor Myers just outlined, those don’t show up in terms of how they impact immigration until 15 to 20 years after these declines in birth rates occur. That’s because that’s how long it takes for those babies born to grow up and enter the labor force. So the declining Mexican fertility is just starting to hit in terms of lowering numbers of young people entering the labor force and looking for work. So from here on out, we’re going to see a dramatic – a reduction in those labor supply pressures for immigration from the country.

CAVANAUGH: Well, why is it that we haven’t heard that much about birth rates plummeting in Mexico, Professor Myers? I mean, I think that you have been lecturing on the subject for a while but it really hasn’t, as you say, sort of entered the consciousness of the American debate about immigration.

MYERS: Well, there’s a great paradox here, Maureen. We, like everybody else, we’re very self-centered and focused on our own view of the world and yet we can’t even see ourselves. So we’re looking at these others, these others being the Mexicans and viewing them the way we looked at them 30 years ago and not seeing any differences. But we’re not looking at ourselves at the same time and we, ourselves, in the last 30 years have become 30 years older. All of us who were born then are now 30 years older, including the large baby boom generation. And so what’s happening right now is the Mexicans are changing and we can’t see it. We, ourselves, are changing and we can’t see it. And they’re going in opposite directions. So the Mexicans are now going to be subsiding in the growth pressures to come across the border and we, ourselves, are going to be retiring from the labor force creating a shortage of workers in the U.S. which we’ve never seen before. And we – And so these two trends are in opposite directions and yet we can’t see it because we’re so self-centered. It’s very odd.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Professor Hanson, the idea that the last, as I say, the last 25 years or so has been this big wave of Mexican immigration driven by demographics and economics, is the decline that we’re seeing now in birth rates in Mexico also maybe just another fluke? Another wave, or is there a solid change that’s going on?

HANSON: No, it really looks like a permanent shift. And to echo something that Professor Myers just said, what we’ve seen in Mexico is this, what social scientists call, a demographic transition. It’s similar to what we’ve seen in many other countries. As countries get richer, as they urbanize, as girls go to school and get educated, what you see is that families have fewer children and invest more in them. And in Mexico, that process of declining fertility was just more dramatic than we’ve seen in other places but it’s very consistent with broader international patterns.

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls on the topic, on the subject here. 1-888-895-5727 is the number. Let’s take a call from Greg in Oceanside. Good morning, Greg, and welcome to These Days.

GREG (Caller, Oceanside): Good morning. I really don’t know exactly where you’re going to go with this conversation in terms of the birth rate in Mexico but I have to assume, and it’s apparent to me in this country, that all of the immigrants, legal and illegal, from Mexico are causing a fairly big uptick in the birth rate in this country, kind of an echo immigrant baby boom. And I have to wonder, you know, how you’re going to factor that into these kinds of discussions.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the call. Who would like to take that? Professor Myers?

MYERS: Yeah, I’ll answer that. Well, birth rate is the one thing we can measure well in America. We keep very good records on people who are born. And it happens that in the U.S. our birthrate today is 2.1 babies per woman. We are exactly at break even. We’re just – actually just slightly below 2.1. Now a large number of those are Hispanic women giving birth because without them we would be below 2.1 because the nonHispanic white women are not having as many babies as they need to reproduce themselves. Black women aren’t reproducing themselves fully either. So we have like 2.6 babies per woman, I think it is, for the Latino woman, which is a little above average and that offsets the others who are below average. The net result is the U.S. is staying steady and that is good news for our economy because unlike Japan and Korea and all of Europe who are way below 2.1—in Europe, the whole continent is 1.4 babies per woman, Japan is 2.2 – 1.2 babies per woman. Those economies are going to be in decline. They will not have workers. And we, in the U.S., have a very bright future ahead of us because we can sustain our workforce in the decade or two ahead.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Nika is calling from Clairemont. Good morning, Nika. Welcome to These Days.

NIKA (Caller, Clairemont): Well, my question has to do with how do – I’d like to ask, if I can form this question…


NIKA: …properly, how they get their statistics. Do they include the rural areas of Mexico? And is the lifestyle in – Can they tell me if the lifestyle is changing among rural Mexicans as opposed to the urban or city Mexicans?

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the call, Nika, and, Professor Hanson.

HANSON: Well, this decline in fertility we’ve seen has come in both urban Mexico and rural Mexico. One of the things that’s happened to the country over the last four decades is that Mexico has become heavily urban. About 75% of Mexico’s population lives in urban areas today. But this decline in fertility is not just about people moving to the cities. It was also about changes in the provision of healthcare, which Mexico started in the late 1970s, programs that were not problem free or uncontroversial by any means but did have the impact of making reproductive health services available to women in rural areas for the first time. And it’s in the 1970s that we started to see this dramatic change in fertility patterns in Mexico. But another big part of this is that the education gap between men and women in Mexico has been eliminated over the past number of decades as education levels have steadily inched up. And that’s happened in urban areas as well as in rural areas.

MYERS: Yeah, I’d like to add…


MYERS: …I was surprised when I looked at the data to see that the decline is happening in parallel in all states in Mexico. Yes, fertility is higher in the rural areas but they’re declining in parallel. I was surprised by that.

CAVANAUGH: We have to take a short break. When we return, we’ll continue the discussion and continue taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guests are professor of Economics at UC San Diego, Gordon Hanson. And Professor Dowell Myers of the School of Policy, Planning and Development at USC. He’s author of the book “Immigrants and Boomers.” We’re talking about the dramatic shift in birthrates within Mexico and how that may change the future of immigration to the United States. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. So let me ask that question of you, Professor Myers. What can we extrapolate from all of this information about falling birthrates? Will we see a change? Will we see a solution to the problem of illegal immigration from Mexico?

MYERS: I think we’re going to see a change very rapidly here starting in about five years. First, we need to get through this recession we’re in, which has slowed down all immigration to America and has made life very difficult for my kids who are looking for jobs. It’s going to take a little while to dig our way out of this hole we’re in but starting about five years from now, inexorably, we’ll all be five years older. The first baby boomer crosses age 65 next year, and so in five years we’ll have had more of them cross 65. Some of them have already retired. Some are going to retire more slowly than they were in the past. But we’re going to rapidly develop, just in this decade we’re in now, we’re going to have this major flip where we’re going to go from a high unemployment where we are right now to low unemployment and then an economy that starts to gasp, looking for workers.


MYERS: And at that same time, the Mexico flow into the U.S. will likely begin to slow down.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Professor Hanson, though, even though birthrates have fallen dramatically in Mexico and will continue to fall according to the statistics that you’ve been telling us, does the Mexico economy have to do something to provide jobs and a better standard of living to keep even a smaller population content to stay at home?

HANSON: It does. Absent stronger economic growth in Mexico, we’re going to see continued pressures for labor to leave the country even if the numbers exiting are smaller than what we’ve seen in the last couple of decades. And Mexico’s absence of economic growth is a bit of a puzzle. The country has been, you know, something of a poster child for the Washington consensus, adopting every liberalizing reform that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund recommended but the growth hasn’t come. And it’s been even more surprising in the last decade when we’ve seen Mexico’s neighbors in Latin America do pretty well but Mexico’s still not able to get close to Indian or Chinese or even Brazilian growth rates.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a call. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Or if you’d like to comment, you can go online at Tina is calling us from Rancho Penasquitos. Good morning, Tina. Welcome to These Days.

TINA (Caller, Rancho Penasquitos): Oh, thank you. I just wanted to make a comment that I lived in Mexico City in 1975 for approximately a year and I do remember a major government sponsored campaign to reduce population. It was usually written on fences along the major boulevards and the campaign slogan, I mean, the slogan was La Familia Pequena Vive Major, which translates to ‘the small family lives better.’ So I do remember that this reduction in the population was going on when I lived there in 1975.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for calling in and telling us that. Elizabeth is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Elizabeth. Welcome to These Days.

ELIZABETH (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. A very interesting conversation. I work in a Mexican research center right across the border called the Colegio de la Frontera Norte. We do research on border issues. And I want to mention two things. One is the factor – the NAFTA factor was fundamental in increasing the immigration because one of the conditions was the elimination of agricultural subsidies within Mexico so that the Mexican farmers could no longer compete with the imported grains that were imported from the United States, and that was the liberation of the great majority of the immigration.


ELIZABETH: That’s the first point, and I think that that’s fundamental and that was not mentioned in the economic scheme of things.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Thank you. Well, we’ll mention it now, Elizabeth, because, yes, we didn’t mention what was going on in the U.S. economy during this wave of immigration to help draw immigrants to our country, Professor Hanson.

HANSON: So I would actually have a slightly different take than Elizabeth has on the forces behind pushing labor out of Mexico surrounding the period when NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, was implemented. At the same time, Mexico enacted a major reform of its agricultural system. Aside from eliminating subsidies, it gave individuals titles to land for the first time, whereas in the past ownership had been held in cooperatives, which mean that if you wanted your family members to get access to that land they had to hang around. That changed in the early 1990s and that freed up rural families to be able to send their sons and daughters north of the border. I would argue that that was the more significant change in helping spur migration from rural areas in Mexico from the 1990s onward.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call, Kevin calling us from Encinitas. Good morning, Kevin. Welcome to These Days.

KEVIN (Caller, Encinitas): Thank you. Good morning. I was wondering about the immigration, if not going to be in from Mexico what about from other countries like the Middle Eastern countries or the Islamic growth rates? Have we studied any of those?

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that. Let me pose that to you, Professor Myers. Where will immigration come from if it slows down from Mexico?

MYERS: Well, that’s a good question. In general, proximity really, really counts a lot. The fact that Mexico shares a border with us is extremely important. It also lowers the travel costs for people to come here, and because of that proximity people who are not as wealthy are able travel to the United States. If you’re coming from across the ocean, you have to pay for an air ticket and that then selects for people who are more middle class and so you’re not able to draw from the large base of poor people in other countries, only the more middle class and that’s true of our immigrants from China and from Africa and from other longer distances. So the major pool of potential migrants is Indonesia and India. Those are the two major, I think, sources.

CAVANAUGH: But as you say, that’s a long way away.

MYERS: It’s a long way away so it’s hard to get them to come here. Meanwhile, Europe is competing for workers, too. Don’t forget them. And it may be easier for them to go to Europe than it is to come to the U.S. It’s – We don’t have – You know, Mexico has been our bread basket for immigrants and it’s very, very important to the United States. We take it for granted because it’s been in excess but once it becomes more in short supply, it’s going to be a very different game. They may be going to Spain instead.

HANSON: You know, if I…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, go ahead, Professor Hanson.

HANSON: So Kevin makes a great point in identifying Muslim countries as places where birth rates remain high. This relationship we’ve seen between Mexico and the U.S. regarding different demographic patterns and how that leads to migration is not unique to this part of the world. What we’re seeing is, as Professor Myers is alluding to, pressures for immigration from Middle Eastern countries and North Africa towards Europe where the difference in growth rates of the population is even starker. Native populations, native born populations in Europe are declining quite sharply whereas they’re rising very rapidly in North Africa, in the Middle East and so we’re seeing a replication of what we’ve seen between the U.S. and Mexico in the last 30 years really starting to take off now between Europe and countries to the south.

CAVANAUGH: And as we hear the – President Obama speaking about the need for immigration reform as he did last week, I’m wondering, do we also forget, Professor Hanson, what it is that we have gotten from the – having such a large illegal workforce?

HANSON: So often lost in the debate, which focuses on, you know, the impacts of illegal immigration on the rule of law in the United States, concerns over the public finances, are, you know, I’m going to sound like an economist here, the efficiency enhancing properties of illegal immigration. These are workers who sacrifice quite a bit to get here. You know, these days it costs about $3,000 to hire a smuggler and get across the border. You don’t do that just because you want to come hang out in the U.S. You do that because you want to work. So these are motivated workers who have higher employment rates than workers who are born in the U.S. have. They’re also workers who are quite mobile. They might be hanging drywall in Las Vegas one month and laying carpet in Atlanta the next. And they are – their numbers, the inflows of these workers really fluctuates with the business cycle. So that mobility and flexibility and motivation are things that have helped the U.S. economy and also serve as a bit of a shock absorber when hard times hit as we’ve seen in the last couple of years.

CAVANAUGH: And Professor Myers, when people are thinking up and proposing policy for immigration reform, are they looking at the same demographic data you are when they are developing these policies? The fact that the birth rate is declining in Mexico and that we – Are they proposing policies based on the future or the past?

MYERS: Well, you know, I hate to say it but policies could be based on rationality, looking at the evidence and looking at facts, or they could be based on politics. And immigration has become so contentious that the political dimension has been dominating and so policies are worked out as compromises as to what’s palatable to politicians as opposed to what is most effective for the American people looking at it factually. I wish we could look at things more rationally than we do but in this kind of heated environment, it’s just a compromise or a standoff, which is what we have right now.

CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering, Professor Hanson, while immigration from Mexico still remains pretty high and we are talking about the need for immigration reform in Washington, that conversation apparently is beginning once again. Even taking into consideration what we’ve been saying here, isn’t there something the federal government could do to make the costs to states more fair?

HANSON: Well, I think we’ve seen in the debate inspired by SB-1070, this law in Arizona that’s attracted so much attention, frustration on the part of state and local governments that they’re bearing the costs associated with immigration, and illegal immigration in particular. And they have a point. It’s states and localities that have to pay the bill for educating the kids of immigrants, for providing public healthcare, and for the other services that new arrivals demand. The revenues, much of the tax revenues that illegal immigrants generate—and they do pay taxes in various forms—ends up in the pockets of the federal government. Now how does that happen? Well, we require illegal – we require people who get a job in the United States to present us a social security card so illegal immigrants do, fake as they may be. But if you present a social security card and your number takes – and your employer takes down that information, he’s going to make deductions from your paycheck and send that money on to the federal government which it keeps. And it does keep it. It doesn’t disperse it back to the states in any way to help off lay all of those costs.

CAVANAUGH: So the states are – the states of California, Arizona, border states, are put – taking on more of a burden than perhaps they should do so fairly.

HANSON: So California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas are hit pretty hard in terms of demand for public services that they are obligated to pay for. So if we want to think about immigration reform, you’ve got think about changes in our fiscal rules which help the state and federal government share that fiscal burden more evenly.

MYERS: If I can add to that.


MYERS: In the olden days, ten years ago, immigrants were only traveling to five or six states predominantly. And the fact that they’ve spread out more evenly across the whole nation has sensitized the congress people from Iowa and Arkansas and Mississippi, all these other states, who had been ignoring this disparity that Professor Hanson has highlighted. And I think now there’s more interest in Washington in actually developing a more fair system that would provide more federal support for this investment in these new Americans that is being borne on the backs of local taxpayers. The inequity of it all is that if a local taxpayer does make a good investment, there’s no guarantee that this immigrant person will stay in the same city or the same state. They may move to another location so it really needs to be a more federal provision of services.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Professor Myers, you’ve been making the point that the American population is getting older. Is it possible, considering the demographic information that you’ve been studying that in the next 20 or 30 years we may be actively recruiting immigration from Mexico?

MYERS: I think it’s certain we’ll be recruiting immigration from Mexico. It’ll be done by employers in retirement homes. We’ll also be sending more Americans to Baja, too, to retirement homes there. They can live more cheaply on fixed incomes. But our older population is going to need a lot more care because there’ll be a lot more older people. And a lot of those workers today in California, in particular, are foreign born workers and yet that supply is just not going to be growing the way it was. There’s going to be a real squeeze on. It’s either going to be more care by immigrants or more care by robots. I’ll take the immigrants any time.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a call. Al is calling us from North Park. Good morning, Al. Welcome to These Days.

AL (Caller, North Park): Yeah, hi. I’m curious to know what role the illegal – the issues around the illegal drug trade and drug violence play in inhibiting the growth of the Mexican economy.

CAVANAUGH: Great question, Al, thank you. Professor Hanson, the drug cartel war in Mexico, is that hurting the Mexican economy?

HANSON: Well, up until about four years ago, I think most folks would’ve said no, and that’s because the drug trade in Mexico was an enclave. It was about getting drugs from Colombia and other places through the country and on to the United States with minimal interference and minimal interaction with the local population. But what we’ve seen in the last four or five years is that these drug gangs realized they had this power to branch out into other criminal enterprises and this has started to affect Mexico in myriad ways, and even showing up in the political system with drug gangs just out and out buying politicians to represent their interests at the state level as well as at the federal level.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Aaron, calling from Kearny Mesa. Good morning, Aaron. Welcome to These Days.

AARON (Caller, Kearny Mesa): Good morning. Thanks for taking my call. This just goes out to both professors and either can answer them. How do you answer the droves of Americans that are saying that that particular illegal worker is taking a job that I, as an American, could be doing? And say, for example, if I’m unemployed.

CAVANAUGH: Gotcha. Thank you, Aaron. Thank you for the call. And who wants to take that first? Professor Myers?

MYERS: No, no, I’ll defer to Professor Hanson. He’s the economist.


HANSON: So what we’ve seen in the United States over the past five decades is a dramatic decline in the number of low-skilled workers, which social scientists usually describe as, you know, folks who haven’t completed high school. 1960, half of U.S. workers hadn’t completed high school. Today, that number is down to 8%. So those workers are affected negatively by the arrival of illegal immigrants to compete with them for jobs. But those – but these illegal immigrants are providing what has become a scare source of labor in the United States. So in construction, in agriculture, in hospitality industries and low-end manufacturing, you have industries that really rely on low-skilled labor and absent access to illegal immigrants, it’d be hard to provide those goods and services.

CAVANAUGH: You know, one of your points, Professor Myers, is that even though things are changing dramatically in terms of birthrate and perhaps in the future economically in Mexico, the attitudes of Americans are not keeping up with that change. How do we stimulate a new attitude towards Mexico and immigration from Mexico?

MYERS: I think we need to understand that the story of America, which includes the baby boomers getting older, and it includes newcomers arriving, and see how these stories are intersecting and how they’re mutually supportive. Right now, people are making decisions based on what they like and don’t like, and they’re making decisions based on 1970 or 1980 and I sometimes joke with audiences when I talk with them that I know what they all really want. They all really want to go back to 1980 because back then they were all 30 years younger. And everybody laughs and agrees. And I want to go back then, too. But that’s not realistic. I can’t go back to 1980 and no one can do that. And we really need to build the best future we can today and we need to face reality here and it’s going to work out really well if we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot, which we keep doing. You know, California in particular has been in a protracted impasse on many issues because we just can’t face reality. And reality can be a good thing if we make it happen.

CAVANAUGH: And Professor Hanson, in closing, you wanted to give us a historical perspective on the recent wave of Mexican immigration that we’ve been living through and the kind of reaction that we’ve had to it.

HANSON: So what we have been living through since about 1980 is what, you know, we’ll one day call the great Mexican immigration wave. And I think it’s going to, you know, it’s going to be – start – begin to start petering out around 2020, depending on what happens in Mexico’s economy. In the end, it’s not going to look all that different from big immigration waves we’ve had in the past, the Irish who came in large numbers between 1840 and 1880, and during their heyday accounted for 30% of immigrants in the U.S. The Germans who came in big numbers between 1850 and 1890. And we don’t need to look too far back in U.S. history to see lots of opposition to new folks coming from other countries and the cultural conflicts and social conflicts that ensued. But, you know, here I’m optimistic. One of the secrets of America as a country is our ability to embrace people from different lands and to ultimately Americanize them even if what being an American means changes somewhat in the process. This, we do better than any other country.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you both so much. Gordon Hanson, Dowell Myers, thanks for talking with us today.

MYERS: Oh, thank you.

HANSON: Thank you very much, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: If you’d like to comment, please go online, Coming up, a Point Loma man writes about his friend, “The Man on the Bench.” That’s as These Days continues here on KPBS.