Mexico loses more than just workers when its people cross the U.S. border illegally in search of jobs. It loses fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, sisters and brothers. It loses social structure.
The remittances expatriates send home can never compensate for the loss of people whose energy, talents and integrity are essential to Mexico's future.
Remittances - nearly $24 billion in 2007, according to the Mexico's Central Bank - help individual families but have a corrosive effect on Mexico. Without them, political pressure would build at home to create jobs.
Without the relief valve illegal migration offers for Mexico's unemployed, there would be enormous demand to deal with the corruption and lack of opportunity in Mexico.
Mexico is showing a welcome recognition of the downside of illegal immigration.
Earlier this year, Mexican President Felipe Calderón called it his "duty" to create opportunities at home. "I'm not a president who likes to see Mexicans leave the country, because every immigrant who leaves Mexico represents a loss," he said in February.
Now, Mexico's National Human Rights Commission is distributing illustrated booklets describing the risks migrants face. They include graphic depictions of migrants brutalized by bandits, Mexican authorities and smugglers. The goal is to discourage migration. This is a remarkable change in tone from an illustrated booklet distributed by the Mexican Foreign Ministry in 2004. It offered safety tips and amounted to a how-to guide for illegal border crossers.
In these new books, the focus is on the horror stories, the broken lives. One is aimed at Mexicans, the other warns Central Americans of the hazards of crossing Mexico illegally to get to the U.S.-Mexican border.
The Mexican Human Rights Commission gets funds from the Mexican government, but it is structured to be independent. It makes good use of that status to blame Mexican police and soldiers for well-documented mistreatment of migrants. These books and Calderón's words suggest Mexico is ready to recognize that remittances can't compensate for the loss of its people and that it shares responsibility for ending illegal immigration.