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One of Trump’s policies could spark a boom in immigration from Mexico

Declines in the price of the peso will likely stimulate immigration from Mexico. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

President-elect Donald Trump has promised strict limitations on Mexican immigration to the United States. He announced his successful campaign last year by describing immigrants from Mexico as "rapists" and has called for a wall along the border.

If Trump is to reduce immigration, his policies will have to be strict enough to cancel out the effects of his economic agenda, which could increase the number of migrants looking for work in the United States by punishing Mexico's economy.

Trump has proposed a punitive tariff of 35 percent on imports from Mexico. The fee would limit American demand for Mexican goods, causing a contraction in the Mexican manufacturing sector and reducing employment for Mexican workers. Many could come here instead.

A tariff would affect the exchange rate in ways that could increase immigration. Investors have sold off pesos during the campaign in anticipation that a Trump administration could reduce their value by restricting trade.

The price of the currency has plunged 11 percent just since Trump's election and has declined 18 percent over the past year, from 6 cents to fewer than 5 cents per peso.

That decline in the price of the peso implies that the same hourly wage in the United States will be worth substantially more in Mexico. Work in the United States has become more remunerative for people in Mexico who are considering emigrating. Also, the increase in cost of imported goods in Mexico will have some households looking for more money in order to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, those who are already here have more of a reason to stay, since their wages have become that much more valuable to their families at home.

"When there’s a depreciation in the home country, people stay overseas longer," said Dean Yang, an economist at the University of Michigan. These economic factors could cause "an increase overall in net migration to the U.S."

Some analysts warn the peso could fall further if Trump in fact implements his proposals.

"The markets are giving him the benefit of the doubt about how many of these non-orthodox policies will be actually put in place," Andrés Jaime, a strategist at Barclays, told Bloomberg.

In a study of data on migration and exchange rates from 66 countries over 25 years, economists at the International Monetary Fund have showed that that depreciation is typically associated with parallel increases in emigration.

There are a broad range of other factors that could affect both the price of the peso and immigration to the United States. Mexican is a major exporter of oil, and prices have fallen worldwide. If Trump substantially reduces taxes, the economic stimulus could drawn in more Mexican workers, at least in the short term.

In recent years, the exchange rate has been less important to Mexican immigration to the United States than other factors, such as the average wage in both countries and the fact that Mexico's population is not increasing as quickly as it did in the past, according to research by economists Madeline Zavodny and Pia Orrenius.

"It would be at best premature to expect a big inflow because of the drop in the value of the peso," said Zavodny, an economist at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga.

She added she was skeptical that Trump would fulfill his pledge to impose major new barriers to trade, due to lobbying from U.S. businesses with plants south of the border. "I'm not sure that President-elect Trump understands how integrated the economies have become since NAFTA," she said, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump has denounced.

If Trump does deliver, however, then the consequences for the Mexican economy and immigration to the United States would be difficult to predict.

"If economic conditions in Mexico deteriorate, and he puts a lot of stress on the Mexican economy, of course all Mexicans will have an incentive to leave the country," said Sekou Keita, a graduate student at the University of Auvergne in France.

Trump, of course, can seek to mitigate any increase with more restrictive immigration policies. Advocates of reduced immigration, however, point out that Trump's policies are working toward opposite ends. Trump has railed against companies such as Ford Motor that are expanding manufacturing south of the border, offering jobs that pay well and giving Mexican workers a reason to say.

"Generally speaking, I want Mexico to industrialize, and I want more trade with Mexico," said Mark Krikorian, president of the Center for Immigration Studies. "We want Mexico to become as developed and prosperous as a country as they can be, because then they’ll be the ones getting the illegal immigrants instead of us."

He added that economic development could create more political stability in Mexico, giving potential immigrants another reason to stay.