Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

O'Neil analyzes developments in Latin America and U.S. relations in the region.

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Think Again: Immigration

by Shannon K. O'Neil
January 30, 2013

A woman reads a pamphlet prior to being naturalized as a U.S. citizen during a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts July 14, 2010. A woman reads a pamphlet prior to being naturalized as a U.S. citizen during a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts July 14, 2010 (Brian Snyder/Courtesy Reuters).

President Obama outlined his vision yesterday in Las Vegas for a comprehensive immigration reform, officially kicking off what will undoubtedly be a heated countrywide debate. With so many differing (and at times blatantly false) statistics and assertions circling the immigration discussion, here is my take, via Foreign Policy, debunking five of the biggest myths. Do you have others? Let me know!

Mexicans Will Keep Flooding the United States If Allowed.”

Not likely. Starting in 2005, the number of migrants coming from Mexico—who comprise one-third of the U.S. foreign born population—began declining. The deceleration then picked up pace with the 2008 world financial crisis, so much so that a 2012 Pew Hispanic report noted that for the first time in decades, the number of Mexicans entering the country was the same as those leaving—leading to a “net zero” in terms of flows.

Though the U.S. recession played a role, perhaps the most important—and permanent—factor behind this shift is demographic. In the 1970s, even as mortality rates declined, Mexican women on average had seven children. Today, that number is much closer to two—much like the United States. This means that the “extra” Mexican youth who came of age in the 1990s and early 2000s have dissipated, and are unlikely to return again. These fewer siblings are staying in school longer—most now through high school and many into college—further reducing the pool of young men and women searching for opportunities to the north.

Economic prospects at home have also improved. The booms and busts of the 1980s and 1990s, which pushed so many Mexicans across the border, seem to have ended. Instead, Mexico’s new economic story is one of a growing middle class—now some 60 million strong—made up of lawyers, accountants, small and medium size business owners, higher-skilled factory workers, and taxi drivers, among many other professions. These economic shifts also have encouraged Mexicans to stay home.

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