This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Undocumented Migration to the US Comes to a Halt

The Pew Research Center released a new report yesterday suggesting that the flow of undocumented immigrants to the US has come to a halt. The analysis relies on a "triangulation" (my term, not theirs) of several sources of data from both Mexico and the United States. Here are some of the highlights:
In the five-year period from 2005 to 2010, about 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the United States and about 1.4 million Mexican immigrants and their U.S.-born children moved from the United States to Mexico.
Keep in mind, however, that at least 400,000 of those who "moved" did so because they were deported, especially in the years of the Obama administration.
Apprehensions of Mexicans trying to cross the border illegally have plummeted by more than 70% 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.
But keep in mind that the increased border enforcement keeps people in as well as keeping them out. Border enforcement has made it more costly not only for new immigrants to cross, but it has also "trapped" existing undocumented immigrants in the US--they are largely staying here riding out the economic storm. Without the enhanced border enforcement, many of those people would have "self-deported" and would have ridden out the storm in Mexico (where the cost of living is lower), waiting for better economic times, at which point they might have re-crossed the border. Border enforcement has completely changed the dynamic along the border, but not in the expected or intended way.
Looking back over the entire span of U.S. history, no country has ever sent as many immigrants to this country as Mexico has in the past four decades. However, when measured not in absolute numbers but as a share of the immigrant population at the time, immigration waves from Germany and Ireland in the late 19th century equaled or exceeded the modern wave from Mexico.
This is a really important point because it reminds us that the percent of the US population that is foreign-born has only recently climbed back to the level of the 19th century. This is not really new ground we're covering here. 

The New York Times weighed in on the story by asking two experts about their reaction to the assertion that a fairly significant number of Mexicans have returned home from the US:

Steven A. Camarota, the director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, a group that advocates reduced immigration, noted that he had first reported an outflow of Mexicans in 2009. “The evidence is very strong,” Mr. Camarota said, “that there is a slowdown of people coming from Mexico and a big increase in people leaving.”
Wayne A. Cornelius, a director of the Center of Expertise on Migration and Health at the University of California, said that in his most recent field research, which drew on interviews with migrants in Mexico and California, there were no signs of increased return migration. The “overwhelming pattern,” he said, “is that migrants who have made it to the United States and found employment, particularly if it is relatively stable despite the recession, are hanging in there and riding it out.”
Personally, my vote goes to Wayne Cornelius on this issue...

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