“The era of great Mexican migration is probably over”

A long profile of a Mexican family who moved to Chicago and then recently moved back to Mexico contains some consequential big-picture information on migration: the flood of Mexican immigrants into the United States in recent decades is “probably over.”

With opportunities limited by a still-struggling economy, the historic wave of Mexican immigration appears to have reversed after decades of growth that transformed the U.S., according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonprofit research group.

With the change of direction that may again reshape communities in both countries, about 1.4 million Mexican immigrants in the U.S. returned home from 2005 to 2010, most voluntarily, the center reported last spring. That number, which also includes deportations, is roughly double the number of Mexicans who left the U.S. between 1995 and 2000.

“I believe the era of great Mexican migration is probably over,” said Allert Brown-Gort, a fellow at Notre Dame University’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies who has written extensively about Latin American immigration in the Midwest.

With jobs lacking, “slowly but surely your options start getting cut down,” Brown-Gort said. “What’s going to happen in Chicago if these workers go back, to the extent that they’re younger workers, is that it will be taking a wedge out of certain areas of the economy.”

This is a trend that has long-term implications for the United States. From the mid-1960s until the late 2000s, the United States experienced a large influx of immigrants. One way to measure this is to look at the foreign-born population in the United States which increased from 9.6 million in 1970 (4.7% of the total population) to almost 40 million in 2010 (12.9% of the total population). This flood of immigrants from Mexico and other countries led to opportunities, like new workers and population growth in cities and states that would not have had much otherwise, and new concerns. As suggested, we may look back at recent decades and see it as “the era of great Mexican migration.” Not having as many immigrants in the coming years will certainly lead to changes.

This also reminds me of the final pages of a recent book I just read: The Revenge of Geography by Robert Kaplan. After spending most of the book looking at pivotal regions of the world where a variety of civilizations and cultures have and will meet (Eastern Europe, the steppes of Russia, central China, northern India, Iran, etc.), Kaplan turns to the United States which has generally avoided such interaction by virtue of being across two oceans. Yet, Kaplan suggests while the United States has spent much of recent decades working on foreign policy concerns in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, it should pay more attention to its relationship with Mexico. In particular, Kaplan argues the American Southwest and northern Mexico could have a very productive relationship moving forward as they share a number of economic, social, and cultural concerns.

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