More Mexicans are leaving than moving into the United States, reversing the flow of a half-century of mass migration, according to a study published on Thursday Nov. 19.
The Pew Research Center found that slightly more than one million Mexicans and their families, including American-born children, left the US for Mexico from 2009 to 2014. During the same five years, 870,000 Mexicans came to the US, resulting in a net flow to Mexico of 140,000.
The desire to reunite families is the main reason more Mexicans are moving south than north, Pew found. The sluggish US economic recovery and tougher border enforcement are other key factors.
The era of mass migration from Mexico is “at an end,” declared Mark Hugo Lopez, Pew’s director of Hispanic research.
The finding follows a Pew study in 2012 that found net migration between the two countries was near zero, so this represents a turning point in one of the largest mass migrations in US history.
More than 16 million Mexicans moved to the United States from 1965 to 2015, more than from any other country.
“This is something that we’ve seen coming,” Lopez said. “It’s been almost 10 years that migration from Mexico has really slowed down.”
Pew said there were 11.7 million Mexicans living in the US last year, down from a peak of 12.8 million in 2007. That includes 5.6 million living in the US illegally, down from 6.9 million in 2007.
The Border Patrol arrested more non-Mexicans than Mexicans in the 2014 fiscal year, as more Central Americans came to the US, mostly through South Texas, and many of them turned themselves in to authorities.
The authors analysed US and Mexican census data and a 2014 survey by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography. The Mexican questionnaire asked about residential history, and found that 61 percent of those who reported living in the US in 2009 but were back in Mexico last year had returned to join or start a family. An additional 14 percent had been deported, and 6 percent said they returned for jobs in Mexico.
Dowell Myers, a public policy professor at the University of Southern California, said it’s lack of jobs in the US – not family ties – that is mostly motivating Mexicans to leave. Construction is a huge draw for young immigrants, but has yet to approach the levels of last decade’s housing boom, he said.
“It’s not like all of a sudden they decided they missed their mothers,” Myers said. “The fact is, our recovery from the Great Recession has been miserable. It’s been miserable for everyone.”
Also, Mexico’s population is aging, meaning there’s less competition for young people looking for work. That’s a big change from the 1990s, when many people entering the workforce felt they had no choice but to migrate north of the border, Myers said.
While the US economic recovery is sluggish, Mexico has been free in recent years from the economic tailspins that drove earlier generations north in the 1980s and 1990s.
While many parts of Mexico suffer grinding poverty and violence, others have become thriving manufacturing centers under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Car manufacturers including Volkswagen AG, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp have built plants across central and northern Mexico that employ thousands, spawning auto-parts plants and other ripple effects. Highways and rail lines that connect to the world’s largest economy north of the border have attracted more investors.