Zero Net Migration

Walter Russel Mead has some interesting things to say about the declining immigration rates from Mexico.

Via Meadia has long considered fears that America would be overrun by waves of immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America to be overblown. As with previous waves, immigration from Mexico will peak and then begin to fall.

Now a new report from the Pew Hispanic Center finds that over the past five years, immigration from Mexico has fallen to a net zero—migrants are returning to Mexico at the same rate that they are arriving in the U.S. Among the report’s findings:

  • 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.
  • 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.

This is an important shift, but it’s still too soon to foresee an end to mass migration from Mexico. As the US economy improves, immigration is likely to pick up again. The recession was deepest in the construction industry, which hired a lot of unskilled immigrants, legal and illegal. It’s not surprising that many of these immigrants have chosen to return home, but as that industry returns, many of these immigrants will return with it.

Nonetheless, those who think a fragile America is about to be overwhelmed by a human tsunami from Mexico need to take a deep breath and calm down. Yes, the US needs to control its borders, and yes, illegal immigration needs to be stopped. But in the medium to long term, Mexican immigration to the US is on a downward path.’

It’s hard to know what the medium to long term will bring us and we can be sure there will be surprises. I hope that Mead is right though. It is not good for either the US or Mexico to have large numbers of people crossing the border and going north. We have been having difficulties assimilating large numbers of illegal immigrants and the refusal of both parties to actually enforce immigration laws contributes to the decline of the rule of law here. Mexico has been losing a lot of the very people they need to grow their economy.

I think Mead is right though. There have been some positive developments in Mexico over the last decade or so. Despite the troubles with drug cartels, Mexico’s economy has been doing fairly well. They have had solid growth rates since 2010 and an unemployment rate lower than ours. Mexico’s GDP is actually the fourteenth highest in the world, between Australia’s and South Korea’s.  Mexico’s birth rate is dropping and there is a growing middle class, which I hope will have less tolerance for the traditional corruption in Mexico’s politics. If these trends continue, always a big if, then an increasingly prosperous Mexico will be good for both our countries.

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