Declining Mexican immigrant population in Chicagoland

The population stagnation or loss in the Chicago region extends across groups of residents, including the Mexican immigrant population.

Photo by Luis Leon on

The Mexican immigrant population in the Chicago metropolitan area has decreased by 15% over the last decade, shows a new report published this week.

That’s a 104,000-person loss, roughly the equivalent of the entire population of Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood disappearing, according to a report by the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC). The tri-state Chicago metro area includes the city, suburban Cook County and eight surrounding counties in northeast Illinois, four in northwest Indiana and one in southeast Wisconsin…

Cooper said most of the narratives about the population loss have focused on middle-class and upper-middle-class white residents leaving Illinois because of high taxes and the state’s pension woes…

The net loss of Mexican immigrants since 2010 is the continuation of a larger trend that has seen immigrant growth slow to a near halt over the past 30 years. In the ‘90s, Illinois had a net gain of 576,786 immigrants, according to the MPC report. From 2000 to 2010, the state witnessed a net gain of 230,801 immigrants. But from 2010 to 2019, the state’s immigrant population slowed to a net growth rate of just 0.4% — a net addition of only 6,622 immigrants. That trend helps explain why Illinois is near the bottom in population growth since 2010. Immigrant population growth had largely buoyed the state’s population growth in previous decades.

See this earlier post about how immigration to Chicago helped hold off population loss and this earlier post about the exit of Black residents from Chicago.

The point of this research makes sense: many locations in the United States talk about what might happen if wealthier residents leave. Would the 1% move elsewhere if taxes were raised? Will white flight continue? This emphasizes the structural conditions and decisions affecting just part of the population even as immigration has been important for many areas of the United States in recent decades. And then the next question to ask is why immigrants are not staying in this location or coming to this location in the first place; where are they going instead? Growth is good in many American communities but highlighting only certain kinds of growth provides an incomplete picture.

Another question based on these numbers: is Chicago welcoming to immigrants in 2021? Chicago has long been a traditional gateway city but it this now not the case for certain groups or immigrants overall?

Study suggests Mexican Americans have received less government aid than European immigrants in the early 1900s

An op-ed from two sociologists that discusses social science research on the assimilation of immigrant Mexicans includes one study about the governmental aid received by two large groups of immigrants:

No one should underestimate the challenges Mexicans from a humble background face when they move to the U.S. — especially in today’s economy, in which low-skilled jobs are scarce. Their children can face ethnic prejudices. They often do not have access to top-quality education.

But even in light of the struggles, it is important to highlight the progress of many Mexican Americans. Indeed, they have made this uphill climb in spite of greater challenges than those faced by earlier, European immigrants. An extensive historical study published by sociologist Cybelle Fox in 2012 shows that Europeans who came at the turn of the 20th century were far more likely to receive government aid than Mexicans or blacks, regardless of need. Local relief officials also protected European immigrants from federal agents who were investigating public aid recipients during the Depression. In stark contrast, officials repatriated Mexican immigrants and their U.S.-born offspring, who also faced Jim Crow-like racism in many parts of the country.

The end argument is that Mexican immigrants have faced some steeper hurdles than European immigrants, including in levels of government support, in the early 1900s and have done well. It would then be interesting to hear how people interpret this historical information. A common refrain among white Americans is that their ancestors had to work hard and do certain things to succeed in America. Thus, new immigrants should similarly pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Yet, circumstances change. Immigration has changed quite a bit since the early 1900s, particularly due to the 1965 Immigration Act that helped increase immigrant flows from non-European areas. Who is thought to be white has changed and will likely continue to change.

All of this is a reminder that immigration policy and reactions to immigrants is variable and dependent on social conditions in both the sending and receiving country.

At the same time, this op-ed doesn’t mention other sociological research on different outcomes for immigrants beyond assimilation into some sort of “normal” white, American culture. In the last few decades, a number of sociologists have found evidence of segmented assimilation where different immigrants have different experiences. For example, more educated immigrants may be more able to experience upward mobility compared to immigrants who have few job skills. Or, certain groups are treated differently than others because of existing stereotypes and policies. Assimilation may not be possible or desired for some immigrants.