Walter Russell Mead once described “the conventional picture” of U.S. immigration as “an unstoppable wave of unskilled, mostly Spanish-speaking workers—many illegal—coming across the Mexican border.” Adherents to this view (such as Donald Trump and his supporters) tend to fear that, “instead of assimilating the immigrants, the immigrants will assimilate us.” But more and more evidence is surfacing to show that this understanding of U.S immigration is out of date. USA Today reports on striking new data from the Pew Research Center:
For the first time in more than four decades, more Mexican immigrants are returning to their home country than coming to the United States, according to a report released Thursday.
From 2009 to 2014, an estimated 870,000 Mexicans came to the United States while 1 million returned home, a net loss for the United States of 130,000, according to the report from the Pew Research Center. That historic shift comes at a time when immigration has become a contentious focal point in the 2016 presidential race, as Republicans and Democrats argue over how best to modernize the nation’s immigration system.
There are some qualifications: Mexican in-migration still exceeded out-migration (by a hair) if you exclude deportations of illegal immigrants. Also, migration from across the Mexican border remains high, even if Mexican immigration is trending downward; as the now-forgotten crisis from the summer shows, thousands of Central American migrants, many of whom had to enter Mexico illegally to begin with, try to cross America’s Southwestern border every year. Finally, Pew studied the five-year period immediately following the worst recession America experienced in 80 years. Immigration numbers will likely tick upward as the economy recovers.
Still, the number of Mexican immigrants living in the United States peaked in 2007, before the U.S. economy soured. It seems likely that the “Great Wave” of Mexican immigration to the United States, which has carried more than 16 million Mexican immigrants across the border since 1965, is coming to a close. This is typical in U.S. immigration experience. The country has historically experienced temporary waves of immigration from one region of the world or another that reshape America’s demographic landscape but then gradually run their course.
Next up, if current projections are to be trusted, is a wave of Asian immigration. Within 50 years, according to Pew, immigrants from Asian countries will solidly outnumber those from Latin America.