With fewer jobs, fewer illegal immigrants
The US recession and stricter law enforcement are keeping many Hispanics from coming.
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On the other hand, the number of passengers flying from the US to Mexico fell 4 percent in the past few years, according to the International Air Transport Association. Carlos Rico, Mexico's undersecretary for North American affairs, told the Associated Press last month that applications by emigrants to move their possessions back across the border haven't notably increased.Skip to next paragraph
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A long-term shift?
For many years now, the number of Hispanic workers entering the US has been growing at a remarkable pace, dramatically shifting the country's cultural makeup. In the past two years, that pace has slowed.
It's the inflow of undocumented workers that is falling, as legal immigration remains steady, says Mr. Capps, the Washington demographer. A Pew report released earlier this year found that the number of illegal immigrants arriving in the US had dropped to below that of legal arrivals, reversing a decade-long trend.
The report also found that illegal immigration from Mexico has leveled off since last year.
Latinos are increasingly exploring destinations that don't require treacherous desert journeys, says Patricia Mendez, a Honduran immigrant who came to the US five years ago and who heads Centro Presente, a Latino immigrant advocacy group outside Boston. Her brother, she says, recently emigrated to Spain, one of the most popular recent choices.
"Foreign born Hispanic workers are in a state of transition," Mr. Kochhar says. "Are we now going to see a drop in the population itself?"
At the very least, a long downturn could mean that the shift away from illegal immigration toward visa holders gains momentum.
If the trends continue, they could even alter the distribution of Latino immigrant communities in the US. A slowdown in arrivals could erode communities with more fragile, less-developed networks, says Irene Bloemraad, a sociologist at the University of California in Berkeley.
And those who do come may increasingly follow jobs to far-flung, recession-resistant agricultural areas like the upper Midwest, Capps says.
For now, those possibilities remain speculation – immigration policy reform led by the Obama administration, for instance, could change trends.
But the longer the downturn lasts and the more severe it is, the more uncertainty colors the future of Latino immigrants. "As far as I know, nobody knows where the light is at the end of this tunnel," says Kochhar.