More Mexicans are leaving than moving into the United States, reversing the flow of a half-century of mass migration, according to a study published Thursday.
The Pew Research Center found that slightly more than 1 million Mexicans and their families, including American-born children, left the U.S. for Mexico from 2009 to 2014. During the same five years, 870,000 Mexicans came to the U.S., resulting in a net flow to Mexico of 140,000.
The desire to reunite families is the main reason more Mexicans are moving south than north, Pew found. The sluggish U.S. economic recovery and tougher border enforcement are other key factors.
The era of mass migration from Mexico is "at an end," declared Mark Hugo Lopez, Pew's director of Hispanic research.
The finding follows a Pew study in 2012 that found net migration between the two countries was near zero, so this represents a turning point in one of the largest mass migrations in U.S. history. More than 16 million Mexicans moved to the United States from 1965 to 2015, more than from any other country.
"This is something that we've seen coming," Lopez said. "It's been almost 10 years that migration from Mexico has really slowed down."
The findings counter the narrative of an out-of-control border that has figured prominently in U.S. presidential campaigns, with Republican Donald Trump calling for Mexico to pay for a fence to run the entire length of the 1,954-mile frontier.
Pew said there were 11.7 million Mexicans living in the U.S. last year, down from a peak of 12.8 million in 2007. That includes 5.6 million living in the U.S. illegally, down from 6.9 million in 2007.
In another first, the Border Patrol arrested more non-Mexicans than Mexicans in the 2014 fiscal year, as more Central Americans came to the U.S., mostly through South Texas, and many of them turned themselves in to authorities.
Also, many Mexicans in the U.S. have become frustrated and fearful as efforts to overhaul immigration laws stalled in Congress and President Barack Obama deported roughly 2 million people during the first five years of his administration. Obama's 2014 order shielding many others from deportation remains blocked in court.
The authors analyzed U.S. and Mexican census data and a 2014 survey by Mexico's National Institute of Statistics and Geography. The Mexican questionnaire asked about residential history, and found that 61 percent of those who reported living in the U.S. in 2009 but were back in Mexico last year had returned to join or start a family. An additional 14 percent had been deported, and 6 percent said they returned for jobs in Mexico.
Dowell Myers, a public policy professor at the University of Southern California, said it's lack of jobs in the U.S. — not family ties — that is mostly motivating Mexicans to leave. Construction is a huge draw for young immigrants, but has yet to approach the levels of last decade's housing boom, he said.
"It's not like all of a sudden they decided they missed their mothers," Myers said. "The fact is, our recovery from the Great Recession has been miserable. It's been miserable for everyone."
The Associated Press