Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at Pew who co-wrote the analysis, said Mexican immigration may never return to its height during the mid-decade housing and construction boom, even with the U.S. economy recovering. He cited longer-term factors such as a shrinking Mexican work force.
He noted that government data now show a clear shift among Mexican workers already in the U.S. who are returning home. He said that data is a sign that many immigrants are giving up on life in the U.S., feeling squeezed by increasing enforcement and limited opportunities that they don’t see improving anytime soon.
About 1.4 million Mexicans left the U.S. between 2005 and 2010, double the number who did so a decade earlier. In the meantime, the number of Mexicans who entered the U.S. sharply fell to about 1.4 million, putting net migration from Mexico at a standstill. More recent data suggest that most of the movement is now heading back to Mexico, accounting for the drop in the illegal immigrant population.
During the same period, the population of authorized Mexican immigrants edged higher, from 5.6 million to 5.8 million.
Among the Mexican immigrants who leave the U.S., an estimated 5 to 35 percent are deported while the rest opt to go back voluntarily, often taking U.S.-born children with them. Those who were in the U.S. illegally and returned to Mexico also are increasingly saying they will not try to come back — about 20 percent, compared to 7 percent in 2005.
The Pew estimates come amid heightened attention on immigration in an election year where the fast-growing Hispanic population, now making up roughly 16 percent of the U.S. population, could play a key role. Arizona’s law, being challenged by the Obama administration in the Supreme Court, seeks to expand the authority of state police to ask about the immigration status of anybody they stop on the rationale that federal enforcement has largely failed.
Since Arizona’s law passed in 2010, five other states — Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah — have passed similar measures.