Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Why Wisconsin Needs Mexico

And how Trump’s get-tough policies will hurt the state.

By - Sep 13th, 2016 01:27 pm
Donald Trump. Image from campaign website.

Donald Trump. Image from campaign website.

Wisconsin doesn’t rank high as a state for Latinos. The proportion of Latino residents is just 6.4 percent, behind 31 states and the District of Columbia, as a Pew Foundation study found.

After all, we border Canada, not Mexico; we’re in the snow belt, not the Sun Belt. The fact that we are so are far to the north of Mexico helps explain why the state’s Latino percent is relatively low. And yet, Mexico is tremendously important to Wisconsin.

That’s because Wisconsin, as one of the leading manufacturing states, and with a thriving dairy industry, is a big exporter. The state ranks 16th in total exports. And next to Canada, more of those products are exported to Mexico than any other country. Mexico imported $2.9 billion worth of goods from Wisconsin in 2015, it has been estimated.

According Census Bureau statistics, an estimated 9.4 percent of Wisconsin’s exports go to Mexico, and an estimated 117,665 jobs in Wisconsin depend on trade with Mexico, which ranks Wisconsin ahead of 32 states in both categories.

Mexico, for instance, is the biggest single export market for Wisconsin’s cheese, more than half of which goes to that country, as John Schmid reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

And that trade has grown faster as a result of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. Mexico’s total bilateral trade with Wisconsin has grown 4 percent per year since 2005, and exceeds the country’s total trade with France, as Claudia Ruiz Massieu, secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, has noted.

Then there is Mexico’s impact on Wisconsin’s workforce. A recent study by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance found the state has lost more than 27,000 people to migration since 2010, meaning 27,000 more people have migrated from the state than have migrated to Wisconsin.

The decline would be much greater if not for the big increase in the Latino population, which has grown by nearly 47 percent since 2000.  That growth has been even more dramatic in the Milwaukee metro area, which has seen the population of Latinos increase 213 percent between 1990 and 2014, as a study by the UW-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development found. More than two thirds of this growth came from people of Mexican descent.

Mexican immigrants are particularly critical to Wisconsin’s dairy industry: about 60 percent of immigrants on dairy farms are undocumented, Gordon Speirs, a farmer from Brillion and president of the state’s Dairy Business Association, told the Chicago Tribune. “Without immigrant labor, dairies would close, output would drop and consumers would pay almost twice as much for milk, according to a study funded by dairy producers that estimated the cost to the U.S. economy at $32 billion,” the Tribune reported.

And the dairy industry impacts many other jobs in Wisconsin. “One in 10 jobs in Wisconsin is tied to the dairy industry,” as Milwaukee immigration attorney Eric Straub, who provides consulting for the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, estimated in a story by The Guardian.

But by far the biggest impact of Mexican immigrants is in the city of Milwaukee. As Mayor Tom Barrett noted at the recent opening of the Mexican Consulate in Milwaukee, the city’s population, after decades of decline, once again tops 600,000, and the reason is the growth in the Hispanic, mostly Mexican-American population. Immigrants work here in restaurants, bars, retail stores, the construction industry and more.

Can anyone imagine this city without Mexican restaurants? They are probably the most popular kind of restaurant in town and a draw to suburbanites coming to the city. Milwaukeeans are thrifty, after all, and what gives more value for your dining dollar than a Mexican restaurant?

As for the warning from a Trump supporter that America could end up with a “taco truck on every corner,” writer Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times offered his take on that dreadful scenario:

“Well, here in Los Angeles, we can tell the rest of the nation what that’s like.

“First of all, it smells really, really good, all the time. Let’s say you can’t sleep, so you roll out of bed and decide you’re hungry, but it’s 2 a.m.

“No problem.

“Open a window, take a deep breath and follow the scent of sizzling meat, onions and peppers to the nearest taco truck.

“Taco trucks are like palm trees here. Part of the landscape, and not hard to find.

“I’m not saying you’ll be able to sleep after you eat, but for just a couple of bucks you’ll have a full belly and a smile on your face.”

Really, would that be so bad for Milwaukee? Most voters don’t seem to think so. Charles Franklin’s Marquette Law School poll found that only 28 percent of Republicans, 20 percent of independents and 8 percent of Democrats favor Trump’s position of deporting all undocumented immigrants.

Ruiz Massieu warned that if all unauthorized Mexican immigrants were removed from Wisconsin, the state would lose $2.6 billion in economic activity and 14,600 jobs, citing a report from the Immigration Policy Institute.

And if Trump moved to kill NAFTA, Wisconsin’s thriving export industry would be dealt a deadly blow.

Small wonder Trump did so poorly here in the April Wisconsin primary. We’re a state that depends on good relations with Mexico, Mexican immigrants and Mexican culture. And frankly, the results are pretty tasty.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

3 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Why Wisconsin Needs Mexico”

  1. tim haering says:

    Trump doesn;t have enough support to win the opportunity to do any of this. I know he’s fun to write about, Anton Ego, but he’s a waste of time. NeverTrump!

  2. Mama says:

    I giggle to myself at the associates I have who, in one breath, demand that we “put up a wall” and “round ’em up and boot ’em out” when referring to Mexican immigrants….than, in the next breath, talk about how much they love the food at Botanas and margaritas at La Fuente. Um, who on earth do you think is cooking and serving that food????

    Thank you for this article. I think people are quick to opine on the immigration issue, but forget that there would be an economic ripple effect, too.

  3. Virginia Small says:

    A 90-foot-long mural on S. 1st and KK will soon depict the history of Mexican immigrants in Milwaukee (UMOS) for over 50 years. It’s being created by students under the direction of Raoul Deal, a UWM teacher and native of Mexico. Although others have recently started to flock to Walker’s Point and other South Side locations, Latinos have been among those anchoring this area for a long time. The mural will celebrate that history and is engaging talented teens in the ArtWorks program.

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