There are some significant statistical trends that should indicate a slowing of immigration, but it has not worked that way, certainly not yet.
I am thinking about the birth rate in Mexico — the country that supplies us with the most migrants, legal and illegal; the incidence of marriage in the United States, which supplies a huge percentage of our legal immigration; and finally crime, because under the right circumstances crime, like marriages, can create visas.
Speaking broadly, birth rates in Mexico, the marriage rate in the United States, and crime rates here have all been declining for a number of years. All of those trends should lower migration pressures, but they have not. Let's look at these three variables in turn.
Births in Mexico. The mas-migration people keep telling us that we don't have to worry much about illegal and legal immigration from Mexico any more because that country is getting more prosperous and the birth rates there are declining.
As to prosperity, yes, Mexico is getting a little more affluent, but we should bear in mind that the nation has less than half the gross domestic product per capita of our poorest state, Mississippi. Recent data show the annual per capita GDP in the state at $32,967 per person, while the CIA's World Factbook says the comparable number for Mexico is about $15,600.
Similarly, the data on total births in Mexico provides a different (and far less encouraging) picture than data on birth rates. The number of people migrating, after all, relates to the total population of young people in that nation right now, not to the ratio between live births and population, a figure often quoted by scholars.
Here's how these two sets of numbers from Mexico play out in the period 1990 to 2011:
|Birth rate per thousand||32.2||22.7||a 30% decline|
|Live births, total||2,735,312||2,586,287||a 6% decline|
The drop in actual births in Mexico, over the 21 years thus comes to a bit over 7,000 a year, which is little more than a continuing rounding error.
Why such a slow drop of actual births, given the 30 percent decline in the birth rate? There still are a huge number of Mexican women in child-bearing years because of the birth rates of the past and the sheer number of young women is more important than birth rates in determining the total number of babies. The live birth data are here.
Further, it is the size of the birth cohort a generation ago — not the current one — that has the most direct bearing on immigration, not some ratio relating to today's family patterns. Then there is the status of the Mexican economy, which is still in much worse shape than that of Mississippi.
For both of these reasons, migration pressure from Mexico will be intense for a long time to come, and a whole lot of immigration apologists will not tell you that.
Visa-Creating Marriages. There is considerably less conversation regarding marriage as a vehicle of migration than Mexico as a source, but marriage creates more visas than Mexico can, something that our policy makers rarely notice. The basic data for FY 2011 are from Tables 3 and 7 in the 2011 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics:
- Immigrant visas created by marriages: 297,001
- Immigrant visas for people from Mexico: 143,446
- Total immigrant visas in FY 2011: 1,062,040
The concept here is not the number of arriving married immigrants; rather it is the smaller number of immigrant visas issued to people because they have married, or are about to marry, U.S. citizens or green card holders. It also does not count the children of the new spouses who, in turn, get green cards or nonimmigrant visas because of their alien parent's marriage. There is, of course, some overlap -- many of those obtaining green cards via marriage are from Mexico.
So, marriage is a major source of migration, and it continues to be one even though the incidence of marriage in the United States declines.
On that last point, consider these numbers (from Table 57 of the Statistical Abstract of the United States 2010):
- Percentage of U.S. population 18+ who were married, 1990: 62 percent
- Same concept, same data source, 2008: 57 percent
That would seem to predict that the percentage of immigrant visas granted because of marriages would decline. It has not. Looking at the last year before the IRCA legalization distorted the rhythm of immigration numbers, 1988, we have this comparison of the percentage of immigration visas caused by marriages, again from the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics:
- Percentage of total immigration visas caused by marriage, 1988: 25 percent
- Same concept, same data source, 2008: 27 percent
The underlying trend went one way, and immigration the other.
Visas Created by Crime. While it is reasonably well known that some marriages create visas, it is not widely realized that crime (or alleged crime) related to collapsed marriages and relationships can also create visas. This is done through the Violence Against Women Act, and a case history of how one alien spouse managed to secure a green card through this system was described in a recent blog of mine.
While the legislation covers victims of both sexes, VAWA cases generally involve an alien woman contending that her male partner abused her, and did so in this country. I am sure that in many cases this is true; but not in others. Since most of the women involved are here illegally, one could speculate that the abusing male was probably foreign-born, and perhaps an illegal himself, but USCIS issues no statistics on that point (surprise!). This is, in short, another specialized form of administrative amnesty carried out through the issuance of nonimmigrant U visas, which can be converted to green cards later.
We know from massive statistics and news coverage that crime is on the decline. You would not know this from this recent USCIS press release, which proclaimed that USCIS has already used up all 10,000 U visas (allocated for the year) for the fourth year running. There are demands, of course, to lift this ceiling in the future.
So, again, while the general trend that crime is down persists, the number of crime-created visas remains steady, and is not increasing only because of the statutory limit. The number of visas created in this program, of course, is considerably smaller than the routine issuance of visas for brides and grooms in the mainline part of the immigration stream. Thank goodness.
The point of all this is that the attractions of immigration to the United States are extremely strong, the enforcement of the immigration law is weak, as is the scrutiny of applications for immigration benefits (i.e., visas), so the levels of immigration keep rising, despite the underlying trends in such areas as the marital status of Americans, the birth numbers in Mexico, the trends in the Mexican economy, and, to a much lesser extent, crime.
We cannot, in short, count on these secular trends, helpful as they may be, to reduce the pressures on our immigration system.