The Pew Research Center released a new report on Thursday that is well-timed given Martin O’Malley’s emphatic, and unfounded, claim that “net immigration from Mexico last year was zero.” We pointed out that O’Malley was conflating legal and illegal immigration, and that he either misinterpreted or misrepresented data from 2007-2014 in order to make the point that illegal immigration was a thing of the past, so therefore is is unreasonable for Americans to demand a secure border.
The new Pew report bolsters its earlier findings that the Great Recession in the United States, and a stronger federal presence at the border at the tail end of the Bush Administration and in the first years of the Obama Administration resulted in a slight reduction (130,000) in the number of Mexicans living in the United States from 2009 to 2014. Also playing a major role was the improvement in Mexico’s economy over the last several years which has created less of an incentive for Mexicans to seek work across the U.S. border, many of them coming illegally.
While Mexicans still are the majority of the illegal alien population at 57 percent, and Mexicans are still coming illegally, albeit at a slower pace than a decade ago, the demographics of illegal immigration are changing. In 2014, the number of Mexicans apprehended at the southern border (227,000) was surpassed by non-Mexicans apprehended (253,0000) for the first time.
The fact that the illegal alien population, despite the declining numbers from Mexico, has remained constant under President Obama does not give those who take enforcement seriously cause for optimism. However, there are some things in the Pew report that upset the narrative that O’Malley and others have put forth for years. Despite their insistence that America is one giant Hotel California – once you get in you can never leave – about 1 million Mexicans, including those here legally and illegally and their children left the United States between 2009 and 2014 to return to their home country.
Immigrants, legal and illegal, by and large, make a rational decision to come to the United States. The same is true if and when they decide to return home – a choice the overwhelming majority of those Mexicans who left the U.S. made for themselves since only 14 percent said they had been deported. Sixty-one percent said they returned home voluntarily (self-deported?) to be reunited with family in Mexico. This underscores the point that families are broken up when an individual decides to immigrate to the United States, not when we enforce our immigration laws. Parents who went back to Mexico had the choice to take their minor children with them, including those born in the United States. According to Pew, 100,000 U.S.-born children under the age of 5 were living in Mexico in 2014.
The Pew data also puts lie to the claim that those who come here from Mexico are doing so because staying at home means living in abject poverty or suffering from routine violence. So many Mexicans would not have returned to that country on their own if it meant destitution and/or death, and fully one-third would not have told Pew’s pollsters that their quality of life in Mexico was better than in America.
Like most of Pew’s publications, the report is quality work, but it does not tell us anything we did not already know about migration patterns to and from Mexico. Still, it is good to have more data to reinforce the fact that there are always push and pull factors that affect immigration to the United States. The main factor driving illegal immigration is the failure of our federal government for many decades to secure the border and enforce immigration law in the interior (with immigration enforcement now being completely dismantled by the Obama Administration).
Pew found that 35 percent of adults in Mexico said they would move to the United States “if they had the opportunity and means to do so.” Twenty percent said they would do so illegally. A question Americans should be asking themselves: If 20 percent of Mexico’s population decided to cross into the United States, would our government do anything to prevent this from happening?
Updated: Wed, Jul 5th 2017 @ 4:06pm EDT