Super Tuesday in Mexico: What Does Voting Mean for U.S. Citizens Living in Mexico?
Sheila Croucher - NACLA
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March 4, 2016

Entrance to the Biblioteca Pública in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico welcoming Democrats Abroad arriving on Super Tuesday to vote in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Primary (Sheila Croucher)

A growing population of U.S. citizens living abroad and their cross-border mobilization on Election Day attest to reconfigurations in conventional models of political and cultural belonging. They also beg important practical and philosophical questions about citizenship and democracy in a global era.

Recent estimates put the population of U.S. citizens residing abroad at more than 8.7 million. Mexico is home to the largest proportion of that population, and San Miguel de Allende ranks among the top settlement sites for U.S. citizens living in Mexico. Those who have moved south of the border have done so for a range of reasons. Some are professionals employed by the many transnational corporations that have set up shop in Mexico, particularly since NAFTA. Others work for international governmental and non-governmental organizations. An increasingly large number, particularly in locales like San Miguel de Allende, are retirees. These U.S. baby boomers say that a variety of factors motivated their migration (climate, culture, wander-lust, among others). Consistently topping the list of reasons, however, is the ability to enjoy a standard of living in Mexico that is far above what their income would afford in the U.S. San Miguel is home, or second home, to well-heeled U.S. citizens, to be sure; but many of the resident gringos are living (albeit quite comfortably) on U.S. Social Security. For this latter group, the economic factors that pushed them to cross the Rio Grande range from the increasing costs of health care and prescription drugs in the U.S. to vulnerable pensions and sub-prime mortgages. These factors have had significant influence on their decision to vote, and for whom.

Financial concerns have also increasingly become a factor in why these citizens tend to vote abroad vote. When asked about their motivations for voting, oft mentioned is recent U.S. legislation, such as the 2010 Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act [FACTA], that many perceive as imposing undue regulatory burdens on citizens living outside of the U.S. The Act is intended to eliminate tax fraud, but large U.S. expat interest groups with investments abroad contend that increased regulations on the part of FACTA have led to restricted banking services for U.S. customers overseas. However, in SMA, where expats continue to buy up large colonial homes in the historic city center, U.S. citizens seem to be largely unencumbered by such tax issues.

Demographic, economic, and technological trends are poised to further expand the population of Americans living abroad in the coming years, just as the opposite trend appears to be occurring with regard to Mexican migration to the U.S. The silver tsunami of retiring baby boomers has just begun its rise; macro- and micro-level indicators in the U.S. suggest on-going financial fragility for U.S. seniors, among others. In addition, a booming online media industry, dominated by magazines like International Living, slickly markets the benefits of moving abroad, and facilitates the process of doing so. Interested readers receive daily emails promising “low cost living” and “lollygagging lifestyles.” Some longer-term North American settlers in SMA resent the recent arrivals drawn primarily by the chance to live what AARP magazine somewhat offensively described in 2004 as the “La Vida Cheapo.”

The bulk of U.S. emigrants will continue to settle in the Americas—as is already evident in the growing popularity not only of towns like San Miguel de Allende and Lake Chapala in Mexico, but similar sites in Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Belize. As this population of Americans abroad grows, so too will the size of the U.S. global electorate and the related lobbying efforts of a growing number of interest groups and organizations, including Democrats Abroad, Republicans Overseas, American Citizens Abroad, the Association of Americans Resident Overseas, and the 25-member bipartisan Americans Abroad Caucus in the U.S. Congress.

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