Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Flow of immigrants from Mexico down sharply

The flow of immigrants from Mexico to the United States has declined sharply since mid-decade, but there is no evidence of an increase during this period in the number of Mexican-born migrants returning home from the U.S., according to a new analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center of government data from both countries.

The Mexican-born population in the U.S., which had been growing earlier in the decade, was 11.5 million in early 2009. That figure is not significantly different from the 11.6 million Mexican immigrants in 2008 or the 11.2 million in 2007.
The current recession has had a harsh impact on employment of Latino immigrants, raising the question of whether an increased number of Mexican-born residents are choosing to return home. This new Hispanic Center analysis finds no support for that hypothesis in government data from the United States or Mexico.

Mexico is by far the leading country of origin for U.S. immigrants, accounting for a third (32%) of all foreign-born residents and two-thirds (66%) of Hispanic immigrants. The U.S. is the destination for nearly all people who leave Mexico, and about one-in-ten people born there currently lives in the U.S.

Data from population surveys taken in the U.S. and Mexico indicate that in recent years there has been a large flow of migrants back to Mexico, but the size of the annual return flow appears to be stable since 2006. Mexico’s National Survey of Employment and Occupation estimates that 433,000 Mexican migrants returned home from Feb. 2008 to Feb. 2009. For the same period in 2007-2008, 440,000 did, compared with an estimated 479,000 from Feb. 2006 to Feb. 2007.

As for immigration to the U.S. from Mexico, data from several sources attest to recent substantial decreases in the number of new arrivals.

The inflow began to diminish in mid-2006, and has continued to do so through early 2009, according to an analysis of the latest available population surveys from both countries. This finding is reinforced by data from the U.S. Border Patrol showing that apprehensions of Mexicans attempting to cross illegally into the United States decreased by a third between 2006 and 2008.

Immigration flows from Mexico, like those from other countries, surged in the late 1990s. Immigration flows dropped by 2002 before beginning to grow again in 2004. But the slowdown in immigration after 2006 was such that by 2008, flows were down at least 40% from mid-decade. The change was driven largely by unauthorized immigrants; flows of legal permanent residents have been steady this decade.

The recent downturn in immigration from Mexico has been steep—a conclusion based on data from multiple sources. The evidence on emigration is not as clear-cut, but appears to point to a stable outflow to Mexico. It remains to be seen whether either trend points to a fundamental change in U.S.-Mexico immigration patterns or is a short-term response to heightened border enforcement, the weakened U.S. economy or other forces.

There is no single direct measure of immigrant arrivals. One particular challenge in measuring the influx of Mexicans is that most Mexican immigrants are unauthorized, including 80% to 85% of Mexicans who have been in the U.S. for less than a decade. As for departures, the U.S. does not track emigration, so any U.S. data can be obtained only indirectly. This analysis draws its conclusions from three data sources.

For the full Pew Hispanic Center Report click here.

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