Fewer are crossing illegally

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Republican presidential candidates are talking tough about illegal immigration.

The Obama administration has deported more than 1 million immigrants who don't have legal papers.

States are embracing a groundswell of new legislation to crack down on illegal immigrants living in the shadows.

Meanwhile, something historic has happened.

Statistics from both sides of the border suggest that illegal immigration from Mexico is in fast retreat.

Mexican census figures show that fewer Mexicans are setting out across the border, and many are returning to Mexico from the United States.

In addition, the Pew Hispanic Center, University of California researchers and other demographers found that fewer unauthorized Mexicans entered the United States than left in 2010, building on a trend that started four years ago.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates the overall undocumented population in March 2010 at 11.2 million, or down from a peak of about 12 million in 2007. Mexicans make up 58 percent of the illegal population—or about 6.5 million, down from a high of 7 million in 2007.

The downturn represents the first big reversal in the growth of the illegal-immigrant population in decades, the Pew Hispanic Center said.

It's impossible to say exactly how many immigrants without legal papers are living in the United States because no authority documents their entry into the country. Researchers use a variety of techniques to make estimates.

The Pew Hispanic Center looked at data from the Mexican government and reported that the number of Mexicans annually leaving their country for the United States has declined from more than 1 million in 2006 to 404,000 in 2010.

Jeff Passell, a demographer at the Pew center, cited three reasons for the 60 percent reduction:

-- Declining job opportunities in the United States since the recession of 2008.

-- Increased U.S. border enforcement and the dangers involved in being smuggled into the United States by violent criminal cartels. In addition, the cost of hiring a smuggler can run as high as $3,000 per person.

-- Economic growth in Mexico that may have eased the need for Mexicans to earn money in the United States. In addition, the birth rate in Mexico is dropping. It peaked at 6.8 children per woman in 1970 and now is at 2.2 children. In simple terms, Mexican families are smaller, and the pool of likely migrants is shrinking.

Passel said factors in Mexico will play a role in whether the rate of illegal immigration continues to drop.

"If more Mexicans get better educated and are able to find jobs in Mexico, then they don't have the impetus to come to the United States," he said.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, an immigration-rights group in Milwaukee, said crossing the border is more perilous.

"People used to come back and forth to the United States," she said. "Now, it has become a much more dangerous journey because of the kinds of people who are taking immigrants across the border.

"For women and children, it means the danger of rape. People do not make these decisions lightly."

Last updated: 1:36 pm Thursday, December 20, 2012

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