Southern California Public Radio
July 13, 2011
Recent reports have indicated a sharp decrease in illegal immigration from Mexico, including a widely-circulated New York Times story last week that suggested economic and educational improvements there are among the reasons would-be migrants are staying put.
But those who are in the U.S. already are also staying put, according to a new study from the RAND Corporation published in the scientific journal Demography. The study found that fewer Mexican immigrants left the U.S. to return home during during 2008 and 2009 than in the two years prior to the start of the current recession, with the recession slowing cross-border movement in both directions.
The study is based on information collected by Mexico’s National Survey of Occupation and Employment, a quarterly survey of 100,000 households. From a RAND summary:
The researchers found declines in return migration among labor-migrant groups of men and 18- to 40-year-old migrants who have less than a college education, as well as a decline in total return migration in the fourth quarter of 2008 immediately after the triggering of the global financial crisis.
For example, while return migration to Mexico during the fourth quarters of 2006 and 2007 totaled 117,120 and 133,490, the numbers dropped to 95,238 and 79,959 during the fourth quarters of 2008 and 2009, according to the study.
The findings back up what the Pew Hispanic Center has concluded in recent years, as the estimated undocumented immigrant population of the United States has gone from a peak of 12 million in 2007 to 11.2 million. In their most recent report on the undocumented population last February, Pew researchers noted that there was no evidence return migration to Mexico had grown in recent years. However, deportations have more than doubled over the past decade, and Mexicans have constituted the majority of these.
One explanation suggested by RAND researchers for a drop in return migration is a “target earner hypothesis,” in which an immigrant chooses the date of returning home – if one is anticipated – based on a planned level of savings. From interviews I’ve done in the past with unauthorized workers struggling with the recession, this would make sense, since it’s been harder for them to save money.
The cost of crossing the border illegally has also become prohibitive as border security has increased. Where circular migration was once the norm, with seasonal migrant workers crossing back and forth, this has become financially impossible for many, giving unauthorized workers another reason to stay put while the economy improves.