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Mexicans No Longer Immigrating to US? (What Will Xenophobes Freak Out About Now?)

A common perception that helps fuel hostility toward migrants is that there's a never-ending pool of people dying to come here, but that's just not true.

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But it didn't start with NAFTA. The “peso crisis” caused a severe recession south of the border in the late 1980s. The country had seen a mini baby boom in the early 1980s, and its economy hadn't been able to absorb those babies as they came of age and entered the workforce in the 1990s. Mexico doesn't have unemployment insurance.

As the Mexican labor market began to rebound, the numbers started falling after 2001. According to the Times' analysis, the dramatic drop-off of recent years is due to a changing combination of push and pull factors. As the U.S. economy got pummeled following the collapse of the housing bubble, the opportunities for work here declined. At the same time, Mexico has seen strong economic growth over the past decade – incomes are up 45 percent over that time.

The Times also notes, “Birth control efforts have pushed down the fertility rate to about two children per woman from 6.8 in 1970, according to government figures. So 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.”

Finally, the number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico has fallen even further because of the drug-fueled violence in the border zone and efforts by the American consulate in Mexico to increase the opportunities for people to enter the country legally.

What will the end of this latest wave of elevated immigration portend for the often-overheated policy debates? That's hard to say. There have been a number of studies looking at what drives native hostility toward the foreign-born, but their results are inconsistent. Some studies suggest that anger increases when the share of first- and second-generation immigrants is high. Others find that hostility toward newcomers correlates better with the unemployment rate. Still other researchers say that perceptions of how one's own economic fortunes are doing is a better predictor.

Whatever the case, the most common argument against providing some path to legalization for those unauthorized immigrants already in this country is that it will unleash a flood of newcomers. But with the number of unauthorized immigrants declining in spite of the lack of Congressional action, that should become a tougher argument to make.

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