Weekly Briefing

Fewer coming and fewer going

Pattern shift strengthens case for immigration reform

Immigration has always been the subject of a lot of mythmaking. In recent years in particular, anti-immigrant activists have inundated the American policy debate with so much hateful rhetoric and so many wild-eyed claims about people from south of the border “invading” theUnited Statesand seeking to “re-conquer” it, that it has been tough to have an intelligent discussion.

Today, however, “thanks” in large part to the ongoing economic stagnation in the U.S., things are shifting. Notwithstanding the ravings of troubled characters on the extreme right, America appears to be calming down somewhat about the immigration issue. New studies of Mexican immigration to the United States by the Pew Hispanic Center and the RAND Corporation shed some additional light on this shift and in so doing help build the case that now is the time to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform.

A release from the Immigration Policy Center at the American Immigration Council summarizes these studies as follows:

“New reports from thePewHispanicCenterand the RAND Corporation provide useful information about the state of immigration today.  Although this data deals with Mexican immigrants as a whole and not just the unauthorized, it is a useful indicator of what is taking place in the unauthorized population. More than half (55 percent) of Mexican immigrants in the United States are unauthorized, and roughly three-fifths (59 percent) of all unauthorized immigrants are fromMexico.

The data reveals an emerging new reality: fewer immigrants are coming, fewer are leaving, and a majority of the unauthorized population has been here for a decade or longer.”

Reviewing the data

Here are some of the findings included in the Pew andRANDreports:

Fewer people coming

* The number of people coming to the U.S.fromMexico is way down. The number of Mexicans leaving for the U.S.declined by more than 60% from 2006 to 2010.
* A number of factors are at work including the economy, border enforcement, smuggling dangers and job growth inMexico.
* A huge drop in Mexican fertility rates.

 Fewer people returning to Mexico –

 * Despite tough times here and better times inMexico, return immigration actually declined in 2008 and 2009 from the levels of 2006 and 2007.

* According to the Department of Homeland Security, three-fifths of unauthorized immigrants have been in theU.S.for more than a decade.

 A new generation of U.S. born children is emerging

* U.S.births of children of immigrants now far outstrip new arrivals as the chief contributor to the growth in the Mexican-American population.

* During the last decade, 7.2 million children were born to Mexican immigrants and only 4.2 million arrived.

Policy implications

The folks from the Immigration Policy Center put things very diplomatically:

“The most recent data on Mexican migration to and from theUnited Statesis an important reminder that migration patterns change over time—and that immigration policies must change as well. Fewer Mexicans are migrating to theUnited States, fewer Mexican immigrants in theUnited Statesare returning home, and immigrants from Mexicoare parents to a new generation of Mexican Americans who are U.S.citizens. These trends suggest that our immigration policies must transition away from the current enforcement-only efforts to drive out unauthorized immigrants. We need a more nuanced set of policies that help immigrants who are already living here to fully integrate into U.S.society.”

A more blunt and direct conclusion, however, might go something like this:

Yes, times are changing when it comes to immigration. Between America’s lousy economic recovery and Mexico’s somewhat more robust performance, the record deportation clip under the Obama administration and the dangers associated with smuggling, it’s no surprise that the one-time tide has turned to a relative trickle. But, the data also show another trend that’s less obvious: a large and growing number of Mexican-Americans were either born here or have lived here a long time.

In other words, there’s a growing divide in the Mexican-American community (by far the nation’s largest group of immigrants); there are fewer newcomers, but many more long-term immigrants as well. These long-termers have been here for years and years. They’re giving birth to a new generation and are clearly becoming more thoroughly Americanized and integrated into the society. These people are simply not going back.

The recently highlighted case of a North Carolinian named Erick Velazquillo is a classic case in point. Velazquillo is a 22 year-old who came here as an infant and who now faces deportation to a country he doesn’t even know because of a traffic violation. Though thankfully delayed for now, the fact that such a deportation is even possible highlights the brokenness of the current system.

In other words, any further delay in the passage and implementation of comprehensive immigration reform is simply, in a word, stupid. Such a reform must do two main things right away:

1)  Provide a pathway to legal status for people like Velazquillo and millions of other immigrants who have become, effectively, Americanized. Whether it’s through paying fines, serving in the military or completing other public service, these people simply must be provided a realistic means to get out from under their undocumented status. Such a move could in one fell swoop legitimize vast communities of immigrants throughout the country and provide a huge injection of energy and public spiritedness into the American economy and psyche

2)  Include provisions that would provide for significantly more legal immigrants – both now and, in particular, in the years ahead when theU.S. and Mexican economies swap places again. In the long run, it’s simply not possible or responsible to expect two giant countries with such huge populations and a lengthy border to coexist without huge population exchanges.

By driving this inevitable pattern underground, all theUnited Statesdoes is harm its economy, abet crime and subject huge numbers of good people to unjust and inhumane situations. Right now, however, there simply aren’t enough slots allotted to average Mexicans and other blue collar immigrants who wish to come to theU.S.and seek a better life – especially during periods in which times are tough in the home country and good in the U.S.

In other words…

Let’s hope these new studies and the circumstances they document provide national policymakers with a new impetus to break out of the mythology-driven stalemate in which immigration policy has been mired for so long. The time for action is long past due.

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