Although most Mexican deportees say they will try to return, their numbers are shrinking, too, the study said: According to a Mexican government survey, 20 percent of deportees in 2010 said they would not return to the United States, compared with 7 percent in 2005.
Half of those returning to Mexico took their entire families, including more than 100,000 U.S.-born children of Mexican immigrants. Children born in the United States to Mexican nationals are citizens of both countries.
The drop comes at a time when overall immigration to the United States continues to grow, and reflects several factors specific to Mexico, including a relatively strong economy and a sharply diminished birthrate.
In 1960, a typical Mexican woman was expected to have more than seven children, but by 2009 that number had dropped to just over two — a decline that presages a sharp reduction in the number of young workers seeking to come to the United States.
As immigration reform continues to be a divisive political issue, experts on both sides of the debate disagreed over the implications of the report.
Those advocating for a path to legalization for immigrants here illegally said the plummeting of Mexican immigration should allow for thoughtful reform to take place without the pressure of trying to stem the flow across the border.
“It gives us the space to figure out how do we fix the legal immigration system so when the economy bounces back, how do we respond?” said Clarissa Martinez, director of immigration and civic engagement at the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy organization.
Others warned that the trend could reverse itself if the U.S. economy improves or the Mexican economy falters. “The idea that this respite means the problem is over is just jumping the gun,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for stricter immigration controls. “It’s wishful thinking by people who just want amnesty.”
But the era of entire villages moving from Mexico to the United States may be over, said Randy Capps, a senior policy analyst and demographer at the Migration Policy Institute.
Instead, he said, the current reversal may be similar to the reduced flow from Germany and Ireland a century ago. He predicted a negative feedback loop as fewer potential immigrants have connections to the United States.
“If this goes on for much longer, it’s going to take a lot to reverse it,” Capps said. “A lot of migration is based on networks — people who know people who know about the environment they’re going to be moving into. When the jobs disappear and the people you know aren’t there anymore, this channel of communication either dries up or it becomes so negative that it just changes everybody’s mind.”
Gustavo Velasquez, 38, who came from Oaxaca, Mexico, 12 years ago and serves as the director of the D.C. Office on Human Rights, said that the scarcity of U.S. jobs is causing more Mexicans to think twice about moving.
It is better to be unemployed in Mexico than to be unemployed in the United States, he said, because most migrant workers leave their families in Mexico. “They miss the warmth of being in a welcoming community,” he said, adding that with tougher border control and more deportations, Mexicans would rather be in a “precarious situation than in a situation of fear.”
Staff writers Stefanie Dazio, Carol Morello and Peter Wallsten contributed to this report.