Net Zero Migration Still Leaves 11 Million Unauthorized Immigrants

Travel agency in Jackson Heights

A storefront in Jackson Heights, NY advertises a remittance service for Mexican immigrants. (Photo: John Rudolph)

It appears that a million Mexicans have left the United States and have not been replaced, resulting in what immigration expert Douglas Massey calls “net zero” migration, a first in half a century.

Massey and his team at the Mexican Migration Project, report that the number of unauthorized immigrants fell from 12 to 11 million during the Great Recession and that people crossing the border without papers have not replaced those who left. These findings are corroborated by a study of Mexican census data that shows a million Mexicans returned from the U.S. between 2005 and 2010.

Migrants have left the United States due to shrinking demand for their labor, tighter border security, and the stress of living in states that have criminalized their very existence. Mexicans have also been lured home by opportunities and a better quality of life in Mexico.

While this might be good news for those who desire fewer foreigners in their midst and ammo for those who oppose the administration’s strident border enforcement and deportation policies, the fact remains that there are still 11 million immigrants without legal status – what do our lawmakers propose we do with those who have chosen to remain in the country in spite of the economy and anti-immigrant sentiment?

Both sides of the aisle have suggested measures that address one aspect of immigration reform: varied incarnations of the DREAM Act, more visas for high skilled and agricultural workers, and special dispensation for wealthy foreigners and the Irish. None of these will address the question of 11 million unauthorized immigrants.

The only solution is comprehensive immigration reform which includes a rational and fair path to citizenship for immigrants who are here unlawfully. No one from either party will touch this right now but perhaps after November, the president – whoever that might be – and Congress will finally address our immigration problem, once they’re done pandering for votes.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

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AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.