More Mexicans are crossing the border, but their president claims they are “happy” | Opinion

With less than three months to go before Mexico’s June 2 presidential elections, leftist populist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador claimed earlier this month that “the people are happy, happy, happy” in his country. I seriously doubt it.

Judging from the number of Mexicans trying to cross the border into the United States, it seems like Mexico is no paradise.

The number Mexicans crossing the border without immigration papers has risen substantially over the past four years, after nearly a decade of steady declines, according to U.S. government data.

That’s a key concern for many Americans, polls show. Unauthorized migration has become the No. 1 issue for American voters in the campaign for the November elections, in part because of former president and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s false claims that undocumented migrants are driving up homicide rates in the United States.

In a March 4 press conference, Lopez Obrador cited a Jan 29 report by Mexico’s state-run INEGI institute of statistics to claim that Mexicans are happier than ever since the agency begun measuring people’s life satisfaction in 2015.

But international standardized measurements of happiness cast doubt on Lopez Obrador’s claims that Mexicans are happier today than before he took office.

According to the World Happiness Report of 2023, an annual study on life satisfaction conducted by several universities for the United Nations, Mexico ranked as the 36th happiest country in the world, in the index of 137 countries. The happiest countries were Finland, Denmark and Iceland, according to the ranking.

But in the World Happiness Report of 2018, the year in which Lopez Obrador took office, Mexico ranked much higher, the 24th happiest out of 156 countries.

The annual index is largely based on a Gallup poll in which people across the world are asked how satisfied they are with their lives on a scale of 0 to 10. The average response in Mexico last year was 6.3.

Scandinavian countries top the list of the world’s happiest countries by this measurement almost every year. Experts say this is because people in northern Europe get better quality and free healthcare and education, among other things, which helps them lead less stressful lives.

To be sure, Mexico and other Latin American countries rank much higher than other countries with similar incomes in other regions, because of Latin Americans’ close family ties and friendships, experts say. Costa Rica, Uruguay and Chile ranked higher than Mexico in the 2023 report’s ranking.

The number of U.S. border patrol apprehensions of Mexicans on the border in 2023 has more than doubled since 2018, when Lopez Obrador took office, according to data compiled by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. In December, U.S. border guards arrested 56,236 Mexicans trying to cross the border, followed by Venezuelans with 46,937, U.S. border patrol figures show.

Also, a rise in extortion and organized crime activities, as well as lackluster economic growth, make it hard to believe that Mexicans are as happy as their president says.

“Drug cartels“ control nearly half of Mexico’s territory — a figure that could be an undercount,” Ryan C. Berg, of the Center of Strategic and International Studies, wrote in Foreign Policy magazine in September. “Seven of the 10 most homicidal cities globally on per capita basis are now in Mexico.”

Mexico’s poverty rates have not fallen, but largely thanks to family remittances from migrants living abroad. While Mexicans received $34 billion in family remittances in 2018, that figure soared to $60 billion in 2023, according to former finance minister Carlos M. Urzúa.

Lopez Obrador’s rosy portrayal of his country is an obvious effort to boost his presidential candidate, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum. She is currently leading in the polls, thanks to a combination of massive government subsidies to the poor and the widespread use of government funds to help her campaign.

If Sheinbaum wins the elections and carries out her promise to follow the outgoing presidents’ policies, crime rates are likely to continue going up, the economy will probably fail to take off, and Mexicans’ migration to the United States may continue rising, and become a bigger problem than it is today.

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