Border 2010: The Demographic Reality
"The Texas-Mexico border is a fast-growing region, a complex blend of U.S. and Mexican cultures, languages and customs. It is a dynamic area that has benefited from a large and growing population in Mexico, rapid growth in U.S.-Mexico trade and a tenfold increase in maquiladora industry activity of the past two decades. Total population in the four Texas border metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), Brownsville, El Paso, Laredo and McAllen, is about 1.8 million, and population growth since 1980 has been 65 percent, versus 24 percent nationally."4 – Dallas Federal Reserve, Vista South Texas
The U.S.-Mexico border is comprises 24 U.S. counties in four U.S. states juxtaposed with 38 Mexican counties, or municipios, in six Mexican states. The combined cross-border population had about 5.2 million people in 1970 with the population more or less evenly distributed on each side of the border. By 2000, the combined border population had more than doubled to 12.3 million with the population continuing an even distribution between the U.S. and Mexican counties. By 2005, the border population had reached approximately 18 million, and it may easily top 20 million by the 2010 Census.5 Very little has been done to research the implications of unchecked population growth along the border.
The population growth rate for the U.S.-Mexican border region easily represents the fastest population growth rate in Mexico and among the fastest in the United States. Simply stated, border states, counties and cities have not been able to keep pace with the demand that this population growth rate places on their social and physical infrastructure.
The greatest single pressure on the border population is the migration rate from interior Mexican states to the Mexican border region followed by their crossing over to the U.S. side of the border. Intense migration has exacerbated already existing natural birth-rate demands on public infrastructure and housing, widespread public health problems, nutrition and general environmental problems; and a lack of employment opportunities, low levels of education and extreme poverty. These factors, and many others, have created extreme public safety issues on the border, which are evident, on a daily basis, on both sides of the border.
While Spanish is the primary language in Mexican border cities, 30 years of migration from central and southern Mexico has brought many indigenous languages to the border and innumerable regional cultures and cultural ways. Therefore, Mexican border cities are stratified along both socio-economic lines as well as cultural ones that are defined by micro-cultural characteristics from throughout Mexico.
U.S. and Mexican border cities face many social challenges. The advent of the Border Industrialism Program initiated in the late 1960s created a maquiladora industry which seemed poised for limitless growth. In reality, the boom lasted only about thirty years and by 2000 American and other industry began bypassing the U.S.-Mexico border for the Pacific Rim. In some cases long established American industry on the border began to leave the border after 1995. The combined general down turn in the industrial economy in the United States, witnessed since 2000, has produced a net decline in the availability of jobs in Mexican border cities at the same time that in-migration from the interior of Mexico to its border cities continues unchecked.
The population density in Mexican border towns continues to rise and the spillover of social problems and lack of essential infrastructure in U.S. border town mounts. Local, state and federal governments have very little contemporary and on-going research data to support informed policy decision making.
The 2005 Mexican Census indicated great overcrowding in the homes in the border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros, which are adjacent to the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Four out of every 10 homes in these two cities were determined to be overcrowded and lacking sanitary sewer and potable water. Thirty years of unchecked growth in Mexican border cities has taken place outside of planned urban development exacerbating already pressing social problems.
Lack of adequate educational facilities has produced a growth effect in U.S. border town school districts, which is out of control and unsupportable in the long term. Additionally, border populations are largely young, female, undereducated and vulnerable. These and many other localized social problems must be studied in order to provide leaders with policy options and solutions. The Texas Center for Border and Transnational Studies at UTB/TSC will focus its research activity on studying localized problems in the cross-border region.
Three of the most significant Mexican border towns and their contiguous cross-border American populations are located in the proposed study area. While the U.S.-Mexico border is comprised of many counties, the social problems and in-migration pressures are principally concentrated in ten Mexican towns and seven or so significant U.S. border towns. The three Mexican border cities located in the lower border region, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros are expected to reach a combined population of approximately 1.1 million people by 2010.
Immediately across the river from these Mexican cities, Texas counties, including Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb and Willacy, are expected to reach a combined population of 1.5 million people by 2010. In the period from 2000 to 2009, all border towns, Mexican and American, have grown at an average of about 3 percent per year, and this unprecedented growth rate is not expected to slow.
The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University has recently published a series of articles on the U.S.-Mexico border (2009), indicating that policymakers need stronger and more sustainable bilateral relations with the use of more coordinated approaches to the study of border issues. UTB/TSC is strategically positioned to play a pivotal role in the development of the border through faculty scholarship and student participation in research.
The need to engage in intensive border research comes at a time when our nation has made great strides to distance ourselves as a nation from our Mexican neighbor. The Baker report points out that "The border should be where one can best see the benefits for the two countries of collaborating and cooperating on issues of major concern. Instead, the border is increasingly becoming an area of tension, conflict and unilateral policies and actions that are more likely to hinder, rather than promote, common goals."6
4 Dallas Federal Reserve, Vista South Texas 2005
5 See many Dallas Federal Reserve articles on the Border Region at
6 Developing the U.S.-Mexico Border Region for a Prosperous and Secure
Relationship, The Baker Institute Policy Report No. 38, April 2009.