Could a combination of tougher immigration laws, our stagnant economy and improving prospects at home mean illegal immigration to the U.S. from Mexico is at a standstill? That’s what the Christian Science Monitor reports in a fascinating article about Mexicans who came to the U.S. illegally and have now returned home.
The article details some anecdotal examples — including a number of references to Georgia — and some interesting descriptions of the challenges for these returnees. But what really caught my eye was that there are data to back up those personal stories:
At the macroeconomic level, Douglas Massey, founder of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton University, has documented what he calls “net zero” migration. The population of undocumented immigrants in the US fell from 12 million to approximately 11 million during the height of the financial crisis (2008-09), he says. And since then, Mexicans without documents aren’t migrating at rates to replace the loss, creating a net zero balance for the first time in 50 years.
Mexican census and household surveys analyzed by [demographer Agustin] Escobar, who is with the Binational Study on Mexican Migration, suggest migrants leaving Mexico fell from more than a million in 2005 to 368,000 in 2010.
Birth rates in Mexico are down sharply and economic growth has been hot, contributing to the improved ability for Mexicans to better their lot in life at home rather than across the Rio Grande. Michael Barone suggests economic growth in Mexico may be tied more closely to that of Texas, which has had a relatively strong economy through the downturn, rather than America as a whole. If it’s true that economic growth in Texas has resulted in economic growth in Mexico, there could be a win-win: Prosperity could increase in the years to come both in the U.S. and in Mexico without re-creating the impetus for illegal immigration and the problems that come with it.
Of course, Mexico is not the only country from which people come here illegally, so this doesn’t mean the problem is completely solved. But it is by all accounts the largest country of origin for illegals. And if there’s hope in Mexico, there’s no reason the same improvements couldn’t emerge in other parts of Latin America. So, if these trends prove true and durable, it could mean an enormous change in the immigration dynamic.
That would be true both on the ground, in the effect on immigrants and Americans, and in politics. If we were to solve the problem of new illegal immigration, it would completely change the political conversation about how to deal with those already here and how political parties engage Hispanics — not all of whom, of course, were or care foremost about illegal immigrants.
– By Kyle Wingfield