Mexican popular attitudes toward the United States have resurged after dropping when Arizona and other states approved strict anti-immigration laws, according to new poll data from Pew. A relatively high proportion of Mexicans, 66 percent, say they hold favorable views of the United States, the second-highest score since Pew began the survey in 2002. The highest was in April 2009, shortly after President Obama took office. He'll visit the country on Thursday in an effort to deepen economic and security cooperation.
There appear to be a few trends at work here. The first is that Mexican outrage over harsh United States anti-immigration measures, the most famous being the Arizona law that encouraged law enforcement to demand immigration paperwork from anyone matching a profile, seems to have cooled. Here's a chart from Pew showing the favorability drop in early 2010 after the border state adopted the measure:
Though immigration is a major political issue for our largest southern neighbor, the poll results might surprise you. The data suggest that most Mexicans don't actually want to immigrate. Only about one in three says he or she would move to the United States, even if that person had "the means and opportunity" to do so. The state anti-immigration laws don't appear to have changed that view: The number of Mexicans who would like to move to the United States was 33 percent in 2009, before those laws were proposed, and is now at 35 percent.
Mexicans who responded to Pew's poll seem to believe that their acquaintances in the United States are doing okay: Seventy percent say friends and relatives in the United States are able to "achieve their goals," and 47 percent say Mexicans who move here are "better off." Only 30 percent know someone who returned to Mexico from the United States because they couldn't find work; 18 percent say Mexicans who move across the border are "worse off." Pew reports that 27 percent of Mexican respondents say they personally know someone who was detained or deported by the U.S. government for immigration reasons in the last 12 months, a slight drop from 32 percent the year before. Pew only began asking this question last year, so we can't compare the statistics from before Obama began tightening immigration enforcement.
What about that two-thirds majority of Mexicans who don't want to migrate to America? They seem to view the the nation as a partner on Mexican economic and security issues. Almost three-quarters, 70 percent, say that deep economic ties with this northern neighbor are good for Mexico, down from 76 percent in 2009.
Mexicans still lament the slow progress or lack of progress in ending country's deadly drug war (only 37 percent say Mexico is making progress in the war, down from 47 percent last year; 29 percent say they're losing ground). Yet they increasingly see the United States as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. An impressive 74 percent support the U.S. training of Mexican troops and police; 55 percent approve of U.S. financial support for fighting the drug war. And this chart shows that fewer Mexicans say the United States is primarily to blame for the drug war, with most answering that both countries share responsibility:
These are generally promising signs for the U.S.-Mexican relationship, which could be about to change. The Obama administration has been pursuing immigration reform, which could alter restrictions and border enforcement, as well as the status of millions of Mexican citizens in the United States without proper documentation.
New Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has signaled that he wants to deemphasize the drug war and focus more on growing Mexico's economy. That might not necessarily be the United States' policy preference, given concerns about the drug trade, but anything that boosts the Mexican economy will likely be good news for the two countries' relationship, reducing pressures on immigration policy and improving cross-border trade.