Greatest Drop in Undocumented Population in Modern History, Says Report

Fox News Latino, April 23, 2012

The number of Mexican immigrants living illegally in the U.S. has seen the biggest sustained drop in modern history, believed to be surpassed in scale only by losses in the Mexican-born U.S. population during the Great Depression, according to the Pew Hispanic Center study released Monday.

Roughly 6.1 million unauthorized Mexican immigrants were living in the U.S. last year, down from a peak of nearly 7 million in 2007, according to the report. The significant drop is a dramatic shift as many undocumented workers, already in the U.S. and seeing few job opportunities, return to Mexico.

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Much of the drop in undocumented immigrants is due to the persistently weak U.S. economy, which has shrunk construction and service-sector jobs attractive to Mexican workers following the housing bust. But increased deportations, heightened U.S. patrols and violence along the border also have played a role, as well as demographic changes, such as Mexico’s declining birth rate.

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Christian Ballesteros, who has been at a shelter for immigrants in Matamoros, Mexico, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, pointed to stiffer U.S. penalties for repeat offenders as well as brutal criminal groups that control the Mexican side of the border as reasons for the immigration decline. Ballesteros, who has been deported four times, was recently caught after hopping the border fence near Nogales, Arizona.

“The Mexican cartels are taking over, are actually being like the border patrols on this side,” Ballesteros said. “They threaten them, ‘if you don’t pay, what we’re going to do is we’re going to cut your head off.’ That’s the worst, the worst, the worst part,” Ballesteros said.

After his last apprehension by U.S. authorities, Ballesteros was sent to a detention facility in Las Vegas for 2½ months. He fears it could be six months if he’s caught again. {snip}

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About 1.4 million Mexicans left the U.S. between 2005 and 2010, double the number who did so a decade earlier. In the meantime, the number of Mexicans who entered the U.S. sharply fell to about 1.4 million, putting net migration from Mexico at a standstill. More recent data suggest that most of the movement is now heading back to Mexico, accounting for the drop in the undocumented immigrant population.

During the same period, the population of authorized Mexican immigrants edged higher, from 5.6 million to 5.8 million.

Among the Mexican immigrants who leave the U.S., an estimated 5 to 35 percent are deported while the rest opt to go back voluntarily, often taking U.S.-born children with them. {snip}

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Steve A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington group that advocates tighter immigration policies, said the latest numbers show that immigration policies do make a difference.

“The bottom line is that immigration is not the weather. It is something that . . . can be changed,” he said. “The economy is worse but enforcement is also higher, making it more difficult for immigrants to get jobs in states like Arizona. They are now making new calculations and changing their views.”

Other findings:

—Undocumented Mexican immigrants who have stayed in the U.S. for longer periods of time are now more likely to be sent back by authorities than before. About 27 percent of immigrants sent back had resided in the U.S. for a year or more, up from 6 percent in 2005.

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