Pew Report Shows Attrition of the Illegal Population Is Possible

By Mark Krikorian on November 20, 2015

Is the era of mass migration from Mexico really "at an end"?

That's the claim of a new report from the Pew Research Center titled "More Mexicans Leaving Than Coming to the U.S." It finds a net decline of the Mexican population of 140,000 from 2009 to 2014. Herewith a few thoughts.

First of all, the claim of negative Mexican immigration is only possible because Pew counts the U.S.-born children of Mexican immigrants as "Mexicans." They estimate that 900,000 Mexican-born people returned to Mexico over that period (plus 100,000 U.S.-born kids), offset by 870,000 Mexicans moving into the U.S. (Pew didn't weigh in on legal status, but the majority of each group are certainly illegals.) Given the likely margin of error – the estimates are based on combining a number of different surveys – that means the number of actual Mexicans coming and going were basically the same. Only by counting American citizens as foreigners can the "decline" narrative be sustained. But U.S.-born children are either Americans or they're not; you can't switch based on how it affects your argument.

The second caveat is that these numbers are out of date. A couple of months ago my colleague Steve Camarota looked at the immigrant population from 2010 to 2014 and found basically the same thing as Pew – the Mexican-born population (legal and illegal) was flat over that period, staying at about 11.7 million. (See Table 1 here.) But newer data, through the second quarter of 2015 (see Table 1 here) shows a big jump from the previous year, registering the highest quarterly total ever. The numbers are from different sources, so they don't match up, but the upward trend is unmistakable. It could be this was a one-time blip; we'll have to wait and see what further surveys show. But it's too early to say definitively that we've passed Peak Mexican Immigration.

But these caveats aside, the findings are quite encouraging. The vast majority of the 900,000 Mexican immigrants who returned home over the five-year period did so voluntarily. (Didn't Mitt Romney have a term for that?) This is further proof that the border isn't some kind of ratchet, permitting only one-way travel. Pew identified three reasons for the self-deportations: a weak U.S. economy, stricter border enforcement, and the desire to reunite with family. That last factor is itself connected to enforcement, since it's now easier to reunite with family by going home, rather than bringing them here.

So, in short, we can shrink the illegal population, and without jackboots and boxcars. If it's possible under Obama's feckless management of immigration, how much more so under someone actually interested in upholding America's borders?

A related point concerns the 870,000 new Mexicans who moved here over the five-year period. This is consistent with another report by Camarota showing that the total illegal population (of all nationalities) has remained about flat under Obama, but that 2.5 million of those here now arrived since Obama was inaugurated. A roughly comparable number stopped being illegal, mostly by leaving, plus some deaths and some legalizations.

So, if the president had engaged in steady enforcement of immigration laws, even more than the 900,000 would have gone home, while fewer than 870,000 would have arrived, meaning the illegal population could have shrunk on his watch.

So a simple agenda for our rulers: Nationwide E-Verify for new hires, track and penalize new visa overstays, criminally prosecute every new border infiltrator, deport every illegal arrested by local police. No dragnets, no "Operation Wetback," just steady, consistent, conventional law enforcement. The Pew report suggests that if we do all that, the illegal population will shrink appreciably. Then – and only then – might we be open to hearing your ideas about amnesty for long-term, non-violent illegal aliens.