When Mexican census figures came in recently, officials discovered something unexpected: There were 4 million more people in the country than they thought. The reason? Something you rarely hear in heated immigration discussions in the United States: emigration to the U.S. has plummeted.
Better economic and educational opportunities and better political climate in Mexico, a rise in drug-related violence along migration corridors leading to the border and declining birth rates have contributed to the decline, according to a New York Times report quoting several studies, U.S. and Mexican figures and immigration experts. The report also says the easing of requirements for legal immigration, as well as the American economic slowdown and increased crackdowns have contributed to making illegal border crossings more unpalatable.
U.S. census figures scrutinized by the Pew Hispanic Center show that that fewer than 100,000 undocumented Mexicans made the U.S. their home in 2010, down dramatically from 525,000 a year from 2000 to 2004.
Why the drop in immigrants from Mexico, which have accounted for more than half of the illegal immigrant population in the U.S.? Here are some figures that may explain, according to the Times report:
•Better conditions in Mexico: Incomes have risen, narrowing the gap between wages in the U.S. and Mexico and easing poverty; democracy has a more secure foothold; basic services, such as electricity, running water and trash collection are more widely available. Mexico has built more high and prep schools in states like Jalisco, where many U.S.-bound immigrants come from; In states like Chiapas and Oaxaca, the number of degree holders has risen significantly since 2000.
•Lower fertility rate: The fertility rate among Mexican women is down to 2 children per woman from 6.8 in 1970, creating a smaller pool of potential job seekers
•More legal immigration: Mexicans who have become U.S. citizens have brought in 64 percent more immediate family members legally
•More legal temporary workers: U.S. farmers have legally hired 75 percent more since 2006
•Increased border enforcement: Additional border fences and federal agents to key crossing corridors helped drive up smuggling prices to upwards of $2000, shifting traffic to dangerous desert areas.
•Tougher U.S. laws and non-border enforcement: More than a dozen states have passed laws green-lighting police checks of suspected illegals and making it harder for employers to hire undocumented workers and landlords to rent to them; immigrant rights have been restricted
•Easing of visa rules: Temporary visa program for agricultural workers has been expanded, tourist visa requirement of proof of an income large enough to support a stay in the U.S. has been eased.