The non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center has released a new study about Mexican immigration to the United States, and it would probably irritated the hell out of right wingers if they heard about it. Never happen, them hearing about it. It totally ruins the narrative about how we are being overrun by Mexican illegals taking our jobs.
Since the 1970s about 12 million Mexicans have immigrated to the United States, about half of them illegally. But, in the past five years, the influx has slowed and may now be reversing.
Three factors seem to be at play – the weakened U. S. job market, increased border patrols and a decline in the Mexican birth rate. There are also increased dangers in crossing because the older, safer routes are being avoided.
There are estimated to be 11.2 million illegal immigrants in America. Guess what? Only half of them came from Mexico! That information alone is worth this report.
In 2011, there were 6.1 million Mexican illegals in the United States, down from 7 million in 2007. Legal immigration from Mexico rose from 5.6 million in 2007 to only 5.8 million in 2011. The math tells the tale – 900,000 illegals have gone home and only 200,000 legals have arrived. Part of that 900,000 is obviously the increased number of deportations since President Obama took office, nearly 500,000 in 2011 alone, so the Pew Center’s assumption that these people have just gone home may be erroneous. They may have gone home involuntarily.
Around 29% of all current U.S. immigrants are from Mexico. The second largest group, 4.5%, come from India. It is an imbalance that our immigration laws were supposed to prevent, but a system that fixes quotas based on the number of people from a particular country who are already here was bound to tilt unfairly in favor of Mexicans, who not only were in the Southwest first, but who crossed and recrossed the border with almost no controls for decades. The border region actually developed its own subculture.
The most ignored aspect of the Mexican migration is what preceded the anti-immigrant fervor. It parallels conditions on the Canadian border, so the experiences and history here offer an insight. My mother-in-law’s parents crossed the border twice a year – spring and fall. They worked seasonally in the hotel industry, winters in New England and summers in Canada. By the time they settled in Vermont, their oldest daughter was old enough to choose to remain in Canada. Until 2001, the Canadian border wasn’t just porous, it was practically non-existent. People didn’t bother going out of their way to an official border crossing, they just used the nearest crow-flies road. Our earliest immigration laws didn’t even mention Canadians and Mexicans, but were aimed first at Asians and then at Europeans. The first Europeans to explore the Mississippi valley, to explore the Rocky Mountains, were Canadians. The first Europeans to settle the Great Lakes were Canadians. There was a huge trading network created out of Montréal, through the Great Lakes into the Midwest and Colorado, south to Missouri and finally to Louisiana after the Canadians found out how to get in to the Mississippi and not just out of it. Go to the other end of Canada, and you find Alaskans like the Palins who crossed into Canada for health care from Alaskan towns that lacked good medical facilities. There is over 350 years of Canadians and Americans treating the border as an imaginary line that had no impact on their lives. People still commute to jobs in the other country, though it’s a lot harder these days.
Then, there are the First Nations, the Native Americans. The border cut through their historical and traditional territories. There is at least one reservation that straddles the border in New York State (pain in the ass for controlling cigarette smuggling). As far as they were concerned, the “border” was a European thing that had no reality in their lives for centuries.
Things along the Mexican border were less civilized than along the northern tier. There were a couple of wars that carved off parts of Mexico and made them American. There were a couple of treaties to straighten out the border, but through it all, there was a vagueness about the absolutism of the border…until 2001.
From time to time, we have tried to deal with the sheer number of Mexican immigrants with amnesties and guest worker programs, but things didn’t get down-right hysterical until the economy collapsed in 2008. Then, just as has happened every time there has been a bad recession, the first people to be blamed were immigrants. Re-watch Gangs of New York sometime and remember that what fueled the anti-Irish hatred was a trio of recessions, 1847-8, 1853-4 and 1857, which coincided with the Great Famine in Ireland in 1845-52 and the mass migration of Irish to America. You can see the same pattern with other recessions and other immigrant groups. This time, it was the Mexicans who took the brunt of the resentments and scapegoating.
There are still over six million illegal Mexican immigrants in America, but the Pew Hispanic Center has made liars of the Republican Party and the right wing media. We are not being overrun. Quite the contrary, this administration is making real progress at easing our illegal immigrant problem.
Thanks, Pew. Now, can you make sure factcheck.org has a copy of your report?