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Mexican immigration to the U.S. slows

David Brancaccio Apr 24, 2012

David Brancaccio: The flow of people moving between Mexico and the U.S. is now close to zero right now. That surprising new data today comes from the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center. By comparison, over the last four decades, an estimated 12 million Mexicans came to the United States.

To understand the reversal, we turned to Douglas Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton and the University of Guadalajara. Professor Massey, good morning.

Douglas Massey: Good morning.

Brancaccio: What is your sense about some of the causes of what looks like a sea-change of migration patterns?

Massey: Well as usual, there are changes on both sides of the border. In the United States, there was the economic collapse in 2008 which really hammered some of the main areas of job growth and labor demand for Mexican immigrants. On the Mexican side, the economy isn’t doing that badly and the Mexican birthrate over the past three decades has fallen dramatically. And that means right now, the rate of labor force growth in Mexico is slowing. So all in all, we really see, pretty much an end to a sixty year boom in Mexico-U.S. migration.

Brancaccio: Now you haven’t mentioned greater border enforcement as a possibility here. Are you discounting that?

Massey: Well, all the studies that I’ve done basically show that the militarization of the border that we undertook for the past two decades had the perverse effect of reducing rates of return migration back to Mexico which is why the Mexican undocumented population grew so rapidly in the 80s and early part of the 2000s. Basically, immigration is driven by demand in the U.S. for the opportunities for legal entry on the U.S. side and by economic conditions and the size of the labor force growth in Mexico. And those factors have all changed.

Brancaccio: Well Douglas Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration project at Princeton. Thank you so much.

Massey: Thank you.

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