Going Home: Illegal Immigration Reverses Course

Article excerpt

In his 2012 State of the Union address President Obama reaffirmed his stance on illegal immigration with regard to the Dream Act, which provides more citizenship opportunities for illegal immigrants. Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidates continue debating' over methods to fight illegal immigration, such as Romney's plan to encourage "self-deportation." It is clear that illegal immigration will continue to remain a controversial and relevant issue for US policymakers.

Despite these debates over tightening illegal immigration regulations, a growing body of evidence suggests that illegal immigration is on the decline. Shannon K. O'Neil, expert on Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted that the Latin American immigrant flow to the United States slowed in 2011, an unprecedented departure from past trends. Doug Massey, head of Princeton's Mexican Migration Project, reported that the net immigration traffic had dropped to zero for the first time in 60 years. Statistics from the Pew Hispanic Center support these claims: the number of illegal bovder-crossers and visa-violators from Mexico has decreased to 100,000 in 2010, compared to the 525,000 average annual rate from between 2000 and 2004.

Indeed, this reversal in immigration flows is unusual and its causes arc not limited to US domestic policy. Immigration decisions assess not only the "lure" of the target country and the benefits of its opportunities, but also the "push" from the home country and the difficulties faced there. In the United States, the Obama administration has cracked down especially hard on illegal immigration, with deportation rates reaching record highs of 400,000 immigrants last year. On the state level, Arizona and Alabama have adopted stricter immigration laws than they have in the past. However, the change in immigration cannot be solely attributed to US domestic policy, as signs of these reversals had already started showing before these tougher laws were adopted. Instead, the causes of this immigration trend depend just as much on changes in Mexico as in the United States.

Firstly, Mexico's economy has experienced considerable growth in the past decades. Growing from the peso crisis and the economic turmoil of 1994, the Mexican economy has strengthened significantly, with GDP growth of 5 percent in 2010. In the 1980s, falling petroleum prices and rising international interest rales discouraged the high levels of protectionism and state participation which were then present in the economy. In response, in the 1990s the government began issuing unilateral measures to decrease tariffs and increase privatization, opening the Mexican economy to the world.

On January 1, 1994, the governments of Mexico, Canada and the United States established the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), solidifying Mexico's path towards economic liberalization and forming one of the world's greatest trade blocs in terms of combined GDP. …