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Is Mexican Immigration Over?

The number of people arriving from Mexico now equals the number returning
  • April 30 2012

Few population trends have had a greater impact on American culture than the four decades of Mexican immigration that have brought 12 million Mexican Americans to the U.S. since 1970. In fact, it is the largest wave of immigration in history from a single country. And it appears to have come to a standstill.

A new analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center of census and government data sets from both the U.S. and Mexico says that the net migration flow from Mexico to the U.S. has stopped—and may have actually reversed.

A number of factors appear to be contributing to the change, including the weakened U.S. job and housing construction markets, heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations, the growing dangers associated with illegal border crossings, the long-term decline in Mexico’s birth rates and changing economic conditions in Mexico.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • In the five-year period from 2005 to 2010, about 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the U.S. and about 1.4 million Mexican immigrants and their U.S.-born children moved from the U.S. to Mexico. In the five-year period a decade earlier (1995 to 2000), about 3 million Mexicans had immigrated to the U.S. and fewer than 700,000 Mexicans and their U.S. born-children had moved from the U.S. to Mexico.
  • This sharp downward trend in net migration has led to the first significant decrease in at least two decades in the number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants living in the U.S.—to 6.1 million in 2011, down from a peak of nearly 7 million in 2007. Over the same period the number of authorized Mexican immigrants rose modestly, from 5.6 million in 2007 to 5.8 million in 2011.
  • Mexicans now comprise about 58 percent of the unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. They also account for 30 percent of all U.S. immigrants. The next largest country of origin for U.S. immigrants, China, accounts for just 5 percent of the nation’s stock of nearly 40 million immigrants.
  • Apprehensions of Mexicans trying to cross the border illegally have plummeted by more than 70 percent in recent years, from more than 1 million in 2005 to 286,000 in 2011—a likely indication that fewer unauthorized immigrants are trying to cross. This decline has occurred at a time when funding in the U.S. for border enforcement—including more agents and more fencing—has risen sharply.
  • Although most unauthorized Mexican immigrants sent home by U.S. authorities say they plan to try to return, a growing share say they will not try to come back to the U.S. According to a survey by Mexican authorities of repatriated immigrants, 20 percent of labor migrants in 2010 said they would not return, compared with just 7 percent in 2005.


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