By The Dallas Morning News
The vast majority of illegal immigrants in the U.S. come from Mexico. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. A big surprise is that Mexican migration appears to have fallen to a trickle because of several factors, not the least of which is an improving job market south of the border.
Exhaustive academic research suggests multiple, overlapping circumstances are affecting the migration decline, creating a perfect storm of good news for both sides of the border.
Yes, a growing anti-illegal immigrant sentiment across the U.S. is one ingredient, but this is no cause for hardliners to claim victory. Much bigger, yet subtler, economic and social forces are at play, some of which have been years in the making.
A major factor is the drooping U.S. economy, which continues to take a heavy toll on immigrants as U.S. employers come under increasing federal pressure to stop hiring anyone who can’t prove legal work status. If migrants can’t find jobs, the higher expense of life in America cancels out any meager economic benefit from being here.
All of the sudden, life in Mexico is looking a lot better.
At the same time, Mexico’s economy is taking off, having reached a 5.5 percent growth rate last year according to The New York Times. Job growth is particularly strong in the manufacturing and export sector along the U.S. border. Even in violence-plagued Ciudad Juarez, job growth rivals that of the healthiest U.S. cities. An 8.2 percent increase in Mexican manufacturing jobs appears to be providing much of the incentive for workers to stay in their own country, rather than migrate north.
The cost and risk of migrating illegally also has reached all-time highs, largely because Mexico’s drug cartels have taken control of the routes and smuggling businesses previously run by small-time freelancers. According to one academic study, the cost of getting across the border has risen 66 percent since 2005.
Granted, jobs in Mexico don’t pay as well. But from the migrant’s perspective, the price of splitting up the family, sneaking over the border, obtaining work and staying under the radar in America increasingly exceeds the economic benefit from being here.
On balance, more and more Mexicans are choosing the path of least resistance, which means not migrating. Mexico’s economic good fortune could become America’s if the magnet of jobs and economic stability across the border leads more illegal immigrants to return home voluntarily.
None of this diminishes the need for comprehensive immigration reform. America’s economy eventually will rebound, as will the lure of U.S. jobs. U.S. business still will need a source of cheap labor, and only comprehensive reform can ensure that the legal route is viewed by potential migrants as the only cost-effective way to go.