Fewer Mexicans Emigrating to U.S. Illegally, as Demographic, Economic and Social Changes Make Mexico More Appealing

An article in the New York Times addressed recent economic, demographic and social changes in Mexico and their impact on illegal immigration to the United States. According to Damien Cave of the Times, "A growing body of evidence suggests that a mix of developments — expanding economic and educational opportunities, rising border crime and shrinking families — are suppressing illegal traffic as much as economic slowdowns or immigrant crackdowns in the United States." Cave cites Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton, as saying "that interest in heading to the United States for the first time ha[s] fallen to its lowest level since at least the 1950s." And census data shows that the illegal Mexican population in the U.S. is declining, as "fewer than 100,000 illegal border-crossers and visa-violators from Mexico settled in the United States in 2010, down from about 525,000 annually from 2000 to 2004."
One potential factor in declining illegal immigration rates is demographic change: the birth rate in Mexico has gone down drastically in recent years, and with it the number of potential immigrants has also decreased. The fertility rate in Mexico is roughly two children per woman, significantly down from 6.8 in 1970. With fewer children being born, the potential pool of Mexican immigrants to the U.S. gets smaller, but just as importantly, economic prospects improve within Mexico, as there are fewer people competing for the same jobs. Writes Cave: "While Mexico added about one million new potential job seekers annually in the 1990s, since 2007 that figure has fallen to an average of 800,000, according to government birth records. By 2030, it is expected to drop to 300,000." Furthermore, Cave cites once economist, Roberto Newell, whose figures show a Mexican economy on the rise, with per capita gross domestic product and family income up more than 45 percent since 2000.

Cave writes that any migrant's decision is based on his/her evaluation of prospects at home and potential ones at his/her destination--and the cost associated with travel between the two places. That cost has increased for Mexican illegals, as crossing illegally "has become more expensive and more dangerous, particularly with drug cartels dominating the border." And it appears that for many Mexicans who might cross into the United States illegally at other times, the current difference in opportunity and living standards in the two countries is not enough to spur their movement. Wages increased in Mexico even as they decreased among immigrants in the U.S. during the recession; provision of electricity and running water, and more advanced public services such as trash collection, are expanding in Mexico; and more Mexicans are obtaining higher educational degrees, as the number of schools offering degrees also increases. Of course, many Mexicans still wish to emigrate to America, but more are doing so legally. Still, immigration--and the newer question of "the expansion to legal immigration"--continues to be a polarizing topic, one that Cave suggests is "inevitably divisive."

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