Immigration tide recedes

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While the rhetorical fires raging around the issue of illegal immigration into the United States from Mexico remain fairly well stoked (it is almost another election season after all) what has actually begun to dramatically burn out is the phenomenon itself. Most politicians may not have noticed, considering how scorched and scape-goated undocumented migrants remain at the hands of some, but the flow of migrants into the north has diminished to a trickle and may even been statistically receding as some migrants turn around and head home. The New York Times’ Damien Cave ("Better Lives for Mexicans Cut Allure of Going North") spoke with Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton, an extensive, long-term survey in Mexican emigration hubs: “Massey said his research showed that interest in heading to the United States for the first time had fallen to its lowest level since at least the 1950s. ‘No one wants to hear it, but the flow has already stopped,’ Mr. Massey said, referring to illegal traffic. ‘For the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative.’ ”

Obviously the poor economy in the United States has something to do with that decline and in the era of the federal clampdown on Mexico’s drug cartels, the journey through the increasingly violent and chaotic transit zone of Mexico proper (many migrants are coming up from Central America and southern Mexico) has become a death-defying feat.

But a third reason for the decline may be a surprise to some north of the border: improving economic and educational opportunities in Mexico mean a hazardous migration north, once a rite of passage for Mexican young people, is simply no longer all that attractive. This change has huge implications for U.S. strategy regarding illegal immigration, focused as it is now on enforcement and interdiction and not on soft tactics like foreign aid aimed at advancing economic and educational development in the south. In the most concise terms U.S. policymakers would rather build a billion dollar fence than offer Mexico a fraction of that cash to help build a bridge to its future. Maybe we need to rethink that approach and contribute to building a hemispheric neighbor into a nation that citizens want to invest in, not flee from.

It will be interesting to observe if the decline in illegal migration, indeed the return of undocumented migrants to their home countries, will affect the political discourse on immigration reform in the United States. It’s possible if passions recede parallel to the immigrant tide, comprehensive immigration reform may become more feasible. Who knows? Maybe even the most-vehement opponents of immigration may begin to recognize that, whatever one may feel about undocumented migrants, living in a nation that no longer beckons the tired, poor, tempest tossed and most adventurous, energetic and entrepreneurial of immigrants offers a different set of reasons to worry about the future in this land of apparently diminished opportunity.