April 24, 2012 12:18 am

Immigration from Mexico to US at standstill

The net flow of immigrants from Mexico to the US has ground to a halt and may have reversed, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, ending what the report calls the “largest wave of immigration in history” from one country to the US.

The turnround is a result of the weakened US job market, especially the fall in home building, and tougher actions against illegal immigrants in recent years by the Obama administration.

The trend has been compounded by the long-term decline in birth rates in Mexico and improving economic conditions there.

“We’ve known for a while that the number of people coming to the US was falling but the return flow was something we had not seen before,” said Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at Pew, who co-wrote the report.

The demographics in Mexico point to a continuation of this trend, Mr Passel said, with the fertility rate falling from seven children per woman to 2.4 in the three decades to 2000.

“Because the bulk of the migrants from Mexico are young adults, aged from about 17 to 35, there will be shrinking number of people in that age group,” he said.

Over the past four decades, more than 12m Mexicans have moved to the US, more than half of them without the right paperwork.

But Pew’s analysis found that about 1.4m Mexicans immigrated to the US between 2005 to 2010, while the same number of Mexican immigrants and their US-born children moved back. In the comparable period a decade earlier, about 3m Mexicans moved to the US while fewer than 700,000 went in the other direction.

The report is based on Pew’s analysis of data from five different Mexican government sources and four US ones, including census data.

It comes as the political tussle over immigration returns to the spotlight, with the Supreme Court due to hear the federal government’s challenge to Arizona’s tough immigration law on Wednesday.

That law allows police to request papers from anyone they stop and suspect of being in the US illegally, and has been copied by a handful of other Republican-led states, including Georgia, Indiana and Alabama.

President Barack Obama took office in January 2009 pledging to implement comprehensive immigration reform , including creating a pathway to citizenship, but has failed do to so. The number of deportations has hit record highs under Mr Obama, up to about 400,000 a year .

Immigration has been a hot topic in the presidential election campaign, with Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, promoting a hardline policy against illegals that he says will prompt them to “self-deport”.

The sharp downward trend in net migration has led to the first significant decrease in at least two decades in the number of unauthorised Mexican immigrants living in the US, the report says. It is down from a peak of nearly 7m in 2007 to 6.1m last year, meaning Mexicans now comprise about 58 per cent of the undocumented immigrants living in the US. This is the biggest sustained drop in modern history, surpassed only during the Great Depression.

Pew said the number of Mexicans caught trying to cross the border illegally has plummeted from more than 1m in 2005 to 286,000 last year, likely an indication that fewer people are trying to sneak across.

Although most unauthorised Mexican immigrants sent home by US authorities say they plan to try to return, an increasingly large number say they will not try to do so. According to a survey by Mexican authorities of repatriated immigrants cited by Pew, 20 per cent of labour migrants in 2010 said they would not return, compared with just 7 per cent five years earlier.

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