“It goes counter to the conventional wisdom about the Mexican presence in the United States,” San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro said. The influx “is positive, it is entrepreneurial . . . and one of the keys to a very successful growing city like San Antonio.”
Castro estimates that Mexicans own at least 50,000 of the approximately 500,000 homes and apartments in his city of 1.3 million, which has a vibrant Hispanic culture. Many are in gated communities that have sprung up in the city’s sun-baked northern hills. One neighborhood built around a country club has so many residents from the Mexican city of Monterrey that it has been dubbed “Sonterrey.”
“I’ve never seen so many Maseratis and Porsches in my neighborhood,” said Carl Bohn, a businessman who lives in what is formally called Sonterra, a tranquil development of homes with red-tiled roofs, palm trees, colonnaded entrances and backyard pools.
Affluent Mexicans have long visited the United States for business and shopping. What’s different now is that they are coming to stay, fleeing cartel wars that have left more than 37,000 Mexicans dead in four years, according to U.S. and Mexican officials and analysts. The number of investment visas granted to Mexicans has risen sharply over the past five years.
“It’s a very substantial flow; I would say probably the largest since the 1920s, the last great period of upheaval in Mexico,” said Henry Cisneros, a former mayor of San Antonio who served in President Clinton’s Cabinet. “We have whole areas of San Antonio that are being transformed.”
The size of the new wave is difficult to measure, since some of the new arrivals hold dual citizenship or U.S. work visas or already had American vacation homes. One Mexican think tank, the Security and Civic Culture Observatory, estimated last year that 230,000 people had fled the violence-wracked border city of Juarez, with half going across Mexico’s northern border.
But Aaron Terrazas, a policy analyst at the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, found in a recent study that most of those fleeing Juarez appeared to be moving to other parts of Chihuahua state, not the United States. Still, Terrazas said he found a noticeable increase in one segment of those actually leaving Chihuahua: “the highly educated.”
The well-heeled Mexicans are arriving as illegal immigration from Mexico is on the decline, due to the weak U.S. economy, border crime and more opportunities for young Mexicans at home. Illegal immigration has plunged from an estimated half-million Mexicans a year a decade ago to 200,000 or fewer.