Report: Immigration From Mexico Won't Go Back to Peak Levels

A report looked at the labor demand for Mexican workers in the U.S.

April 4, 2013— -- Future immigration from Mexico to the U.S. is unlikely to return to the high levels seen in the 1990s, according to a study released on Thursday by the Migration Policy Institute.

See Also: Will the Next Big Wave of Immigration Come From This Region?

Immigration from Mexico dried up during the years following the financial crisis in 2007. But even before the U.S. economy collapsed, the number of Mexicans heading north had already fallen considerably, a change partially due to the increased immigration enforcement that followed the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the report says.

By forecasting the need for Mexican labor in the U.S., the study projected that from 2011 to 2017, the net inflow of Mexican immigrants coming to the states -- both legally and illegally -- would resemble the levels seen in the 2000s. By net inflow, the researchers mean the number of immigrants coming into the country after subtracting the number leaving the country.

The estimates don't take into account the potential effects of immigration reform bills that are currently being drafted by Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress.

A Senate bill expected to be released next week would provide a pathway to citizenship that could potentially give millions of Mexican immigrants legal status. The bill would also create more visas for lesser-skilled workers and for workers with advanced degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

In the realm of immigration enforcement, the Senate legislation would increase border enforcement and make it more difficult for employers to hire unauthorized workers.

Such changes could alter the estimates on Mexican migration presented in the report, which focuses on economic factors, and not U.S. immigration policy. The report also ignores demographic and economic changes in Mexico, where the birthrate has fallen dramatically since the 1970s. The country's economy grew at a faster rate than that of the U.S. last year, and the government there anticipates more growth into 2014.

Even though the migration report doesn't account for these factors, it does address the economic forces that bring Mexican immigrants to the U.S., a pivotal driver of immigration.

"Thus, while a high degree of uncertainty still prevails concerning the size of flows that may be observed in the near term," the authors write, "the main conclusion we draw from our analysis is that net migration flows of Mexicans to the United States over the coming years are likely to increase as compared to what was observed during the recent global crisis, but that such flows are very unlikely to reach the levels registered in the 1990s."

Along these lines, a recent article by New York Times reporter Damien Cave points out a potential trend we could see if an immigration bill passes in Congress.

If the legislation creates a path to citizenship for the estimated 7 million undocumented Mexican immigrants living in the U.S., those immigrants will suddenly be able to visit Mexico without fear of being stuck on the other side of the border.

So in the period following the passage of a bill, we may see substantially more Mexicans traveling south rather than north. Cave spoke with people in a town located in the central Mexican state of Zacatecas, an area that has been a big source of immigration to the U.S. in the past quarter century, but where towns now seem bereft of potential migrants.

"J. Reyes Sanchez, 53, one of the men chatting near the church, said he wanted nothing more than to see his three children in the United States, and his American grandchildren, and a pathway to citizenship could let that happen," Cave writes.

He goes on to quote Sanchez:

"'They could come see their family, they could come see me,' he said. 'They'd practically be tourists here, but they need to come.'"

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