The Border Survey of Mexican Migration
Description and Methodology
The cities and towns along the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border constitute the main migration corridor between the two countries. They are used as both a starting point for many migrants trying to cross to the United States, with or without documents, and as receiving areas for migrants voluntarily returning to Mexico or being forcibly repatriated by U.S. immigration authorities. With more than 90 percent of U.S.-Mexico migration flows passing through the border region, it serves as an ideal observatory.
Operating since 1993, the Border Survey of Mexican Migration is the oldest continuous research program tracking original data on the number of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, whether legally or illegally. The Encuesta sobre Migración en la Frontera Norte de México (EMIF) is conducted in selected border-crossing points and at airports in the interior of Mexico by El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF), a government-funded social science research institution whose main campus is in Tijuana. Its unique methodology and instruments were created by COLEF based on the experience of the Cañon Zapata Project in Tijuana.1
EMIF is conducted by COLEF with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, National Institute of Migration, National Population Council, and National Council of Science and Technology.
The objective of the Border Survey of Mexican Migration is to provide unbiased estimates of the size, composition, and characteristics of Mexican labor flows taking place across the U.S.-Mexico border. The data created by EMIF relate to events rather than individuals since a migrant can contribute to one or more separate migrations during a quarter or a year. From these events, EMIF obtains economic and demographic characteristics of migrants as well as their migration experience.
Based on methodologies used in other disciplines to study spatial mobility through observation during movement or flow, EMIF’s methodology and sample design are constructed by distinguishing two dimensions of migrants’ journey: time and space. Labor migrants are selected among the total flow of people passing by a sampling location at a specific day and time.
Rounds of data collection are conducted regularly for each quarter of a year at bus and train stations, airports, ports of entry, highways, and migrants’ meeting points in 11 Mexican northern border cities: Tijuana, Mexicali, Altar, Nogales, Agua Prieta, Ciudad Juarez, Ciudad Acuña, Piedras Negras, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Matamoros. EMIF also captures return flows from the United States in four international airports in the interior of Mexico: Mexico City, Guadalajara, Morelia, and Leon.
From the northbound and southbound flows, EMIF identifies Mexican-born labor migrants 15 years of age or older and classifies them in five groups (2011 average sample size per quarter in parenthesis):
- Migrants from the interior heading to Mexico’s border cities (1,417)
- Migrants from the interior heading to the United States (2,867)
- Migrants returning to the interior from Mexico’s border cities (1,067)
- Migrants returning to the interior from the United States (1,516)
- Migrants returned or removed by U.S. authorities (1,955)
More information about EMIFs can be found at: http://www.colef.net/emif/
1 See Bustamante, Jorge A. (1998). “Some Thoughts on Perceptions and Policies Mexico-United States Labor Migration Flows: Some Theoretical and Methodological Innovations and Research Findings,” in Mexico-United States Binational Migration Study. Mexico City and Washington D.C.: Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs and U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform.