In 1970, there were less than a million Mexican-born people in the United States. In the next 40 years, that number surged to more than 12 million.
But in the last couple of years the Mexican-born population of the United States has started to decline.
According to a new a report (PDF) from the Pew Hispanic Center, net migration from Mexico is now zero.
In fact, the report suggests that more Mexican-born people may now be leaving the US than arriving. This means the end of the largest and most sustained immigration trend in American history.
The co-author of the report and senior demographer with the Pew Hispanic Center, Jeff Passel, says the reasons include the economic downturn in the United States; the comparative prosperity of Mexico; tougher border controls; increased deportation of undocumented immigrants.
Also, organized crime gangs inside Mexico are making life difficult and dangerous for illegal immigrants.
Underlying it all is the changing demographic picture of Mexico, which has seen birth rates plunge, especially in the last 20 years.
“Even if things change, (and) the US economy came back,” says Passel, “there’s not as many Mexicans to migrate to the US as there was 20 years ago.”
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Marco Werman: Hi, I’m Marco Werman. This is The World. The net flow of immigrants from Mexico to the United States has stopped. That’s according to a new report by The Pew Hispanic Center. The report suggests that more Mexican born people may now be leaving the U.S. than arriving. Either way, this means the end of the largest and most sustained immigration trend in American history. This new reality also comes at an interesting time in the national immigration debate. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments tomorrow over the Arizona law designed to force illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico, to leave. Jeff Passell is a Senior Demographer with the Pew Hispanic Center and one of the report’s authors. Jeff, first of all, what is behind this decline in immigration from Mexico?
Jeff Passell: Well, there’s three broad factors that appear to be related and they’re all pushing in the same direction. The first was the great recession and even a little bit before, with the bust in housing construction. The demand for Mexican immigrant labor fell and the flows started falling. We’ve seen also a stepped up level of enforcement against undocumented immigration, so the enforcement has driven up the cost of getting into the United States. It’s more dangerous in Mexico and on the U.S. side, and the enforcement has pushed people out into more remote areas so that it’s harder for them to get in. So you couple all of that with the economic conditions, it’s not surprising then that a lot fewer Mexicans have tried to come to the U.S.
Werman: Given that more than half of Mexican born residents living here in the United States are here illegally, how can you be totally sure of your numbers?
Passell: Well, we’re not totally sure. We think we’ve got a fairly narrow range on it, but the other data we’re putting in this report is actually a good check on it, because we have data from Mexico and we can put a fairly narrow range on how many Mexicans, age 25 to 29, there are in the two countries combined because we can look back and see how many Mexicans were born, 25 to 29 years ago, so this triangulation of the U.S. data against the Mexican data gives us some reasonable confidence that the numbers can’t be very much larger.
Werman: You know, if I’m not mistaken, Mexican birth rates started to fall dramatically in the 1990′s. What do you think is the bigger longer term demographic picture of Mexicans coming to the U.S.? Is there any way that you can model that?
Passell: Oh, yeah, it goes back even further. In 1970, the fertility rate in Mexico was almost seven children per woman. By 2000, it had dropped to 2.4 children per woman and it’s been at about that level ever since, and demographers aren’t very good at a lot of things, but projecting these age groups out 10 years is within our capacity, and so I think even if things change, the U.S. economy came back, there’s not as many Mexicans to migrate to the U.S. as there was 20 years ago.
Werman: I know you said you weren’t totally surprised by the findings, but as we pointed out earlier, this means the end of the largest and most sustained immigration trend in American history. What do you think is significant about that alone?
Passell: In a way it is surprising that the data we had until about a year or two ago didn’t show the big return flows, so this does seem to mark the beginning of a new migration regime. We’ll have to see how it plays out once the U.S. economy gets better, but this concentrated flow of Mexicans does seem to be changing.
Werman: How do you think your findings are going to fold into the presidential campaign this year?
Passell: That’s a very interesting question. From my perspective as a data analyst, I find that a lot of times the data and the information that we’ve put out doesn’t enter into the debate as fully as one would hope it would, so I don’t know. A lot of peoples’ positions on immigration and immigration reform doesn’t seem to be influenced heavily by data.
Werman: The Supreme Court is going to be hearing arguments tomorrow about Arizona’s immigration law. I’m wondering, do potential immigrants discuss the tougher attitude to enforcement here in the United States and the increase in deportations?
Passell: Oh, I think so. We’ve got some data from our national survey of Latinos that finds that Latinos tend to think life has gotten harder for Latinos. They’re concerned about the lack of reforms in the immigration area. You know, undoubtedly the state and local laws that are designed to make life difficult for migrants, is making life difficult for them and a very significant percentage of the Latino population worries about deportations affecting themselves and their families and friends.
Werman: Jeff Passell is Senior Demographer with Pew Hispanic Center and one of the authors on the new report on Mexican migration. Thanks so much, Jeff.
Passell: You’re very welcome. Thank you for having me.
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