The Mexicans are leaving


A protester holds a placard during a protest against Arizona Senate Bill 1070 on April 25 outside of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court began reviewing Arizona's controversial law, which empowers Arizona police officers to stop and demand immigration documents of anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant.



Isn’t the debate around whether to tighten the United States’ vice on immigration getting to sound a little hollow by now? Human rights concerns aside, let’s face it, immigrants just aren’t sneaking into the country like they used to. On this much debated issue, the thrill is gone.

Just look at the numbers of Mexicans. At 60 percent of the immigrant population, they’re patterns are probably as good a bellwether as any. After four decades of influx — and the often unpleasant nativist backlash they’ve encountered — Mexicans are now leaving at the same rate, if not faster than, they're entering, according to newly released data from the Pew Hispanic Center.

That’s historic, and it’s telling. It probably says as much about changes in America as it does the Americas (although Spanish speakers would not make that distinction).

Pew researchers, in an opinion piece posted Thursday on CNN.com, offer a few ideas as to why this is happening.

In the United States, jobs in construction became scarce during the recession. Laws against undocumented migrants became stricter, deportations more frequent.

In Mexico, the economy is recovering more quickly. Mexico’s fertility rate is falling and that has shrunk the number of the usual migrant-age population (age 15 to 39), according to Pew research.

But many in the US still want to ramp up stiffer immigration laws. During the same five years that those migration trends developed, at least three-quarters of US citizens believed the government should do more to stem illegal immigration, the Washington Post reported.

The Supreme Court could rule in their favor. It is hearing arguments against Arizona’s iron-fist immigration policies, and will likely uphold the fist. The policy, known as SB 1070, requires police to run an immigration check on all suspected undocumented workers in Arizona. This may sound innocuous to some. But just ask folks with an accent or a different skin color what this could mean.

Former Senator Dennis DeConcini of Arizona was quoted in USA Today saying: "Who is the target of 1070? If anyone tells you it is only the drug- and gun-trafficking criminals, they are mistaken. SB 1070 targets those with brown skin. And in my state, those are my neighbors, my friends."

But a great many Americans — and perhaps more now, thanks to the rollicking Republican primaries race — envisage beefing up the border with Mexico, or walling it off entirely.

That would follow a costly 20-year border buildup whose expansion would be unnecessary, say some analysts. A recent report by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a think-tank, puts the buildup in perspective:

“This time period has seen a fivefold increase in the size of the US Border Patrol, an unusual new domestic role for the US military deployments of drones and other sophisticated technology, and the building of hundreds of miles of fencing.”

The report goes on to say that border towns on the US side are already some of the safest in the country. Last year, an in-depth report also by USA Today drove that point home.

For migrant laborers, meanwhile, passage from Mexico is deadlier. “Migrants are now attempting to cross in some of the most inhospitable and treacherous terrain along the border, and the number of those who die of dehydration and exposure on US soil has jumped in the past 10 years," WOLA says.

Lately, there's been some interesting reporting out of Arizona about this issue. It could be that business owners would turn out to be some of the angriest lot if Arizona's SB 1070 is upheld.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported:

Employers across the state concurred yesterday, saying they were concerned that a Supreme Court ruling in Arizona’s favor might spark renewed boycotts and prompt Hispanics who play a large role in the state’s economy to flee, whether or not they’re illegal immigrants.