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Illegal immigration from Mexico hits record low

The Americas Post - The USA is not as attractive as it used to be. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Arrests of illegal migrants crossing the US-Mexico border have plunged to levels not seen since the early ’70s, according to tallies released by the US Department of Homeland Security, a major change which could affect the debate over immigration reform.

The Border Patrol apprehended 327,577 illegal crossers in fiscal year 2011, numbers not seen since the Nixon administration and a huge decline from the 1.6 million captured in 2000.

Over 90 per cent of the migrants caught on the south-western border were Mexican.  The number of illegals arrested at the border has been dropping over the past few years, but is down a record 25 per cent this year.

Census and labor data from both countries also show far fewer Mexicans arriving in the United States and many returning home instead.

”We have reached the point where the balance between Mexicans moving to the United States and those returning to Mexico is essentially zero,” Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center, said.    That opinion is shared by other migration experts.

Such a steep drop gives supporters of immigration reform ammunition to argue that now is a good time to tackle the issue. Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have already been fencing over the estimated 11 million people living illegally in the US.

Mr Gingrich says it would be heartless to kick out migrants who have worked and raised families here for years, while Mr Romney has attacked Mr Gingrich for supporting ”amnesty” for illegal residents, but not given a clear answer on what he would do.

Hispanics remain the fastest-growing group in the nation, but for the first time, according to US census data, that growth is driven more by births than immigration.

Mexican survey data show the amount of money sent back from the US is falling, from a peak of $US24 billion in 2007 to $US21 billion last year, according to Mexico’s Central Bank.

The reasons for the downturn in migration are multiple.

Increasing violence in Mexico has made the journey more dangerous, and smugglers have increased their fees to US$3,000 for a quick hop from Mexicali. Increased enforcement and tough new laws against illegal immigrants in Arizona and Alabama are taking a toll, and some Mexicans are seeing better conditions at home.

But immigration experts say the biggest cause of the steep drop is the US economy, which dipped into a recession in 2008 and continues sluggish growth.