Illegal Immigration From Mexico At Lowest Level In Nearly 60 Years

Illegal immigration from Mexico is down substantially, and it has nothing to do with all those anti-immigration laws.

People from Mexico aren’t as interested in coming to the United States as they used to be:

Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton, an extensive, long-term survey in Mexican emigration hubs, said his research showed that interest in heading to the United States for the first time had fallen to its lowest level since at least the 1950s. “No one wants to hear it, but the flow has already stopped,” Mr. Massey said, referring to illegal traffic. “For the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative.”

The decline in illegal immigration, from a country responsible for roughly 6 of every 10 illegal immigrants in the United States, is stark. The Mexican census recently discovered four million more people in Mexico than had been projected, which officials attributed to a sharp decline in emigration.

American census figures analyzed by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center also show that the illegal Mexican population in the United States has shrunk and that fewer than 100,000 illegal border-crossers and visa-violators from Mexico settled in the United States in 2010, down from about 525,000 annually from 2000 to 2004. Although some advocates for more limited immigration argue that the Pew studies offer estimates that do not include short-term migrants, most experts agree that far fewer illegal immigrants have been arriving in recent years.

The logical response to such a stark change in circumstances is to ask why it’s happening. Part of it, assuredly, is a reflection of the stagnant economy in the United States, and especially the stagnant housing and construction markets, which were a huge source of employment for illegal immigrants over the past several decades as they excelled at the skilled labor required by carpentry and other jobs. But there’s another factor, and it’s got nothing to do with the United States:

In simple terms, Mexican families are smaller than they had once been. The pool of likely migrants is shrinking. Despite the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico, birth control efforts have pushed down the fertility rate to about 2 children per woman from 6.8 in 1970, according to government figures. So while Mexico added about one million new potential job seekers annually in the 1990s, since 2007 that figure has fallen to an average of 800,000, according to government birth records. By 2030, it is expected to drop to 300,000.

Even in larger families like the Orozcos’ — Angel is the 9th of 10 children — the migration calculation has changed. Crossing “mojado,” wet or illegally, has become more expensive and more dangerous, particularly with drug cartels dominating the border. At the same time, educational and employment opportunities have greatly expanded in Mexico. Per capita gross domestic product and family income have each jumped more than 45 percent since 2000, according to one prominent economist, Roberto Newell. Despite all the depictions of Mexico as “nearly a failed state,” he argued, “the conventional wisdom is wrong.”


Another important factor is Mexico itself. Over the past 15 years, this country once defined by poverty and beaches has progressed politically and economically in ways rarely acknowledged by Americans debating immigration. Even far from the coasts or the manufacturing sector at the border, democracy is better established, incomes have generally risen and poverty has declined.

Both of these are, of course, highly positive developments. That Mexico might stabilize politically and economically and become, if not as prosperous as Canada just yet, at least a far more prosperous southern neighbor than we’ve ever had is a development we should welcome and encourage. Not only because it will reduce cross-border illegal immigration, but also because a strong Mexican economy is good for the U.S. economy. Of course, Mexico won’t be entirely free of its problems as long as it has to deal with drug lords and the gangs that they employ, but that phenomenon is due more to our own War On (Some) Drugs than anything else. If drugs like marijuana were legal, the Mexican drug lords wouldn’t be nearly as powerful and the drug gangs wouldn’t be holding the country by the throat.

Mexico’s former President Vincente Fox said pretty much the same thing just a few months ago:

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox believes the current strategies employed against Mexico’s drug cartels are not working and he is advocating a different approach.

Speaking passionately about the issue, Fox said he has a team of experts tracking drug-related violence in Mexico. He is concerned the government crackdown and cartel violence that has left about 34,000 dead in the past 4 years is also affecting trade, investment, and tourism.

Fox said he’s looking at other countries for possible solutions. One is Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs 10 years ago and has since seen a 25 percent decrease in drug consumption .

“We might have an answer there because we have to separate the health problem (caused) by consuming drugs, and the crime and violence associated with it to distribute in the black market,” he said.

A country in eternal chaos on our southern border will just make illegal immigration more likely if current conditions that are keeping people home don’t last. Perhaps we need to look at how our own laws are impacting our neighbors and act accordingly.


FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Democracy, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    As I’ve maintained for many years, we shouldn’t be worried about Mexican immigration to the U. S. Changing demographics throughout Latin America strongly suggests that immigration patterns from there will change, too.

    This development is going to be a mixed bag for the U. S. On the one hand there won’t be as much downward pressure on wages for unskilled workers as there has been for the last couple of decades. On the other hand, we can’t depend on that direction as a remedy for some of our weakly constructed social policies, either.

  2. mantis says:

    Good news!

    I was shocked by this number:

    birth control efforts have pushed down the fertility rate to about 2 children per woman from 6.8 in 1970

    That is a huge decline in such a short time. Good thing they don’t follow everything the Pope says!

  3. @mantis:

    That is a huge decline in such a short time. Good thing they don’t follow everything the Pope says!

    Yea I’ve got to agree that’s a positive development.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Both of these are, of course, highly positive developments.

    Mexico is a far more prosperous country than most have any idea of. The problem remains corruption. When one man can offer another 10 yrs wages to look the other way, what does one expect? And the corruption trickles down. This is our problem…. which makes it their problem… but we don’t want to deal with it, which means they can’t.

    I have friends down there I have not seen in 5 years, and they say, “Don’t come down. Your MO license plates make you a target.” I know Texans who still go down…. but I never met a Texan who didn’t think he was bullet proof.

  5. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    It’s the stupidity, economy.

  6. Herb says:

    Of course, you ask most immigration hawks and they’ll say most illegal immigrants are Mexicans…even if they’re from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, or Arizona.

  7. Dave Schuler says:


    They may think that because it’s true. According to DHS 62% of illegal immigrants resident in the U. S. are Mexican nationals.

  8. Console says:

    I’m pretty pro open border. The idea that there are times when people naturally won’t want to come here is the point that’s the toughest to explain to people. Everyone thinks that somehow immigration will spiral out of control if you loosen regulations but no matter what, the economy is king. America is a great country, but it isn’t great enough for people to move to just to be jobless and unemployed. It’s all supply and demand and labor markets should be just as free as capital ones to move across borders.

  9. “Of course, Mexico won’t be entirely free of its problems as long as it has to deal with drug lords and the gangs that they employ, but that phenomenon is due more to our own War On (Some) Drugs than anything else. If drugs like marijuana were legal, the Mexican drug lords wouldn’t be nearly as powerful and the drug gangs wouldn’t be holding the country by the throat.”

    Couldn’t the very same thing be said if the United States had enforced its own laws, and secured the border in order to prevent illegals crossing on to our soil?

    I think anyone who is honest would have to admit that this is true.

  10. SDN says:

    @Herb: Arizona? Well, we’ve found the troll.

  11. SDN says:

    @Console: Which, of course, proves the point that if we verify eligibility to work, illegals will leave. Doesn’t matter why they can’t parasite off our economy; remove the incentive and they leave.

  12. bandit says:

    Another benefit of Obama’s handling of the economy. Along with fewer carbon emissions from people driving to work.

  13. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Doug Mataconis: It’s such a huge decline I’d like to see the methodology. This is a radical shift for such a short period of time.

  14. Really? Nothing? I can easily grant it is far from the most important influence, but nothing?

  15. Herb says:

    @Dave Schuler: That’s not surprising, considering the proximity. I guess the people who think all illegal immigrants come from Mexico are off by 38%.

  16. T13 says:

    Yeah, but it’s still a useful tool for politicians and their kind. If your a politician and the tea-party members start looking at your spending and screwing liberty record too close, just start spouting off about all those darn illegal immigrants.

  17. LoboSolo says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Having left Mexico several months ago after living there, I can honestly say that the region of the country that I was in was pretty safe. There was petty crime and there were a few deaths … but nothing like back home.

  18. LoboSolo says:

    Having lived in Mexico, I’ve been an eyewitness to the drop in fertility. I’v been saying for quite a while now that the illegal immigration problem would solve itself.

    Actually, the probable reason for the drop in fertility is … telenovelas! (Soap Operas)

    Brazil’s racy telenovelas inspire drop in birth rate, rise in divorce
    Brazil’s popular soap operas have done more than just entertain people – they have reduced the birthrate by 3 million and driven up the rate of divorce, a new report has found.

  19. Zona says:

    @Herb: Somebody needs to do something about those damn illegal Arizonans.

  20. Brittanicus says:


    In all the talks and discussions about cutting back on the US treasury deficits, both parties are refusing to consider in these antagonistic debates, the fact that illegal aliens are compounding this major issue; the dollar amount to the $14.5 Trillion dollars, in this miserable meltdown we are facing. The Department of Homeland Security estimated in 2003, that 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens had settled in America and 700,000 new people enter illegally and stay each year. That’s across borders, by lying at entry ports as tourists to the official. These administration statistics are somewhat suspect and may represent major under counting, as they are fashioned by the very people accountable for the tsunami of illegal aliens entering our country. An alternative method is used here to estimate a range of numbers of illegal’s that is probable more levelheaded.

    The precise number of illegal’s entering the United States and the exact rate at which they cross our borders are unknown. Official government numbers are often hard to come by, remain intentionally concealed and are habitually sanitized, in the federal sector and states. This directed (CAPS) California for Population Stabilization to seriously question officials at the Census Bureau and (DOF) California Department of Finance, population figures on these numbers. As an alternative of the 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens these agencies and the liberal progressives claim to be here, there may actually be 20 million to 30 million or more? Nobody truly knows?

    The cost of harboring illegal immigrants in the United States is a staggering $113 billion a year; an average of $1,117 for every household in America and that’s just at the federal level. More truth and Statistics requested? Go to NumbersUSA or Judicial Watch.

    Freshman Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) added his name to 14 different bills on Thursday that would reduce overall immigration levels and work to end illegal immigration.

    * H.R.152 – a bill introduced by Rep. Ted Poe’s to improve border security
    * H.R.310 – a bill introduced by Rep. Sure Myrick that would prohibit federal funding to institutions of higher learning that provide in-state tuition to illegal aliens
    * H.R.691 – a bill introduced by Rep. Phil Gingrey that would prevent mortgages from going to illegal aliens
    * H.R.692 – a bill introduced by Rep. Phil Gingrey that would end Chain Migration
    * H.R.693 – a bill introduced by Rep. Phil Gingrey that would require all businesses to use E-Verify within 60 days
    * H.R.800 – a bill introduced by Rep. John Carter that would require all businesses to use E-Verify within 2 years
    * H.R.1091, introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter that would require DHS to construct 350 additional miles of border fencing
    * H.R.1134 – a bill introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter that would prohibit federal funds being sent to sanctuary cities
    * H.R.1196 – a compilation bill introduced by Rep. Gary Miller, the LEAVE Act, that would end birthright citizenship, require nationwide use of E-Verify, improve interior enforcement, and discontinue rewards to illegal aliens
    * H.R.1459 – a bill introduced by Rep. Sue Myrick, the Scott Gardner Act, that would increase penalties for illegal aliens caught with a DWI
    * H.R.1698 – a bill introduced by Rep. Sue Myrick that would increase fines for employers that hire illegal aliens
    * H.R.1764 – a bill introduced by Rep. Charles Boustany that would end sanctuary cities
    * H.R. 2000 – a bill introduced by Rep. Heath Shuler, the SAVE Act, that would require all employers to use E-Verify and strengthen interior and border enforcement
    * H.R.2164 – a bill introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith, the Legal Workforce Act, which would require all employers to use E-Verify.

    American cannot afford anymore to support the poverty of other countries. The final straw was learning from the (FAIR) Federation of American Immigration reform that a volume amnesty would cost to process everybody with all the FBI background checks, health checks and the occupied paperwork over $2.5 trillion dollars. This is incorrigible when 13 million Americans are seeking work and this country, is still in a recession and unlikely to climb out of this $14.4 Trillion dollars financial chaos for years. Every American needs to rethink his vote for 2012. Not for Democrats, not for Liberals and not for Republicans, but for this Nation’s People under the banner of the TEA PARTY.

    This is the time to empty the overcrowded classrooms, full with the children of illegal aliens. Give hospitals breathing space saving billions of dollars from uninsured illegal immigrants, who knowingly enter by foot, vehicle, aircraft or boat into the United States. Entering illegally in a violation of our national sovereignty and should be a felony, for illegal aliens and those who knowingly break the rules, including businesses. Start the Attrition by enforcement programs such as E-Verify, Secure Communities and support Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Utah and States nationwide who have no choice but to restrict illegal immigrants through police laws as their welfare programs are being sucked dry.

    Fearful illegal nationals are bypassing Arizona and loading their possessions, heading for Sanctuary States as California, Nevada, Illinois, Washington state and many counties within particular States.