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More undocumented Mexicans now leaving US than entering

The Americas Post - The grass is no longer greener on the northern side of the US-Mexico border

Approximately one million Mexicans have returned from the US between 2005 and 2010, according to a new study of Mexican census data….  three times more than the previous five-year period.  As a result,  one respected US sociologist has declared migration levels at “net zero” for the first time since the 1960s.

The shift has serious implications for both countries – from a shrunken labor pool in the US to a revenue crisis in Mexico, which is heavily reliant on billions of dollars in remittances from workers in the US.

“The massive return of migrants will have implications at the micro and macro economic levels and will have consequences for the social fabric … especially for the structure of the Mexican family,” says Rodolfo Casillas,  at the Latin American School of Social Sciences in Mexico City.

The trend began with economic recession in the US.  But even if a stronger one were to pull many Mexicans back to the US, the new pattern could persist.  Returning north has been complicated by tougher state laws in the US, tighter US-border enforcement and border violence.

So, many Mexicans choose to remain where they now have better access to education, growing incomes, and lower fertility rates – all of which make life at home easier.

“The calculation is finally making people come back and decide to stay in Mexico,” said Agustin Escobar, of the Center for Research in Social Anthropology in Guadalajara.

As a result, Douglas Massey of Princeton’s Mexican Migration Project has documented what he calls “net zero” migration. The population of undocumented immigrants in the US fell from around 12 million to 11 million during the recent financial crisis, he says.  Since then, undocumented Mexicans have not been arriving faster than those departing, creating a net zero balance for the first time in 50 years.

“No one wants to hear it, but the flow is now probably slightly negative”, he said last year.

Mexican census and household surveys cited by Mr. Escobar indicate migrants leaving Mexico declined from over a million in 2005 to 368,000 in 2010.

In addition to the economic downturn and crackdowns on illegal immigrants in the US, developments in Mexico such as better education are having an effect.  Although quality lags behind other OECD member countries, test scores are up and dropout rates are lower.

“They have made sure there are teachers everywhere. They may not be the best teachers in the world, but there are schools everywhere. They have done the right thing at the very basic level,” said Harry Patrinos, lead education economist at the World Bank.

Fertility rates have also plummeted in the past two generations. Women had, on average, nearly seven children in 1960; today the average is slightly above two, according to the UN Population Division.

That, say demographers and economists, will deflate labor supply to the US in the future. But more immediately it means that more wealth is spread over fewer family members, in effect raising incomes and allowing families to invest more in their children’s social mobility.

Mexico has evolved from a relatively poor nation to one more “middle class” in purchasing power, reports Luis Rubio in “Mexico: A Middle Class Society,” which he co-wrote. The report links this, among other factors, to fertility rates, trade openness to cheap imports, and new access to credit. “That is why there are so many Walmarts everywhere,” Mr. Rubio says.

Migrants who return with savings can become agents of change, says demographer Carla Pederzini, at the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City. But if they’re deported or return due to job loss, she adds, “it’s very hard for them to start a new life.”