Net Mexican Immigration to United States Falls to Zero for First Time Since 1939

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Mexican immigrants walk through the Sonoran Desert after illegally crossing the US-Mexico border
Source: Michael Barone, “Shrinking Problem: Illegal Immigration from Mexico,”, Apr. 24, 2012

Between 2005 to 2010, 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the United States and 1.4 million Mexican-born immigrants moved from the United States back to Mexico, marking the first time since 1939 that net migration from Mexico dropped to zero.

From 1940-2010 an estimated 12 million Mexicans immigrated to the United States – more than half of whom had crossed the border illegally.

These data and others were reported by the Pew Hispanic Center’s Apr. 23, 2012 report titled “Net Migration from Mexico Falls to Zero – and Perhaps Less,” using information from five Mexican and four US government sources.

The last time net migration from Mexico to the United States was zero or negative was during the 1930s, as mass unemployment deterred would-be immigrants during the Great Depression and many Mexicans in the United States were forcibly deported to Mexico.

The authors of the report offer several possible explanations for the drop-off in Mexican immigration, including the “weakened US job and housing construction markets, heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations, the growing dangers associated with illegal border crossings, the long-term decline in Mexico’s birth rates and changing economic conditions in Mexico.”

Jeffrey S. Passel, Senior Demographer at Pew Hispanic Center and co-author of the analysis, said “Mexican immigration may never return to its height during the housing and construction boom, even with the US economy recovering. This may be due to longer-term factors such as a shrinking Mexican workforce.”

This downward trend in net migration has led to a 13% decrease in the number of undocumented Mexican immigrants living in the United States, from a peak of nearly 7 million in 2007 to 6.1 million in 2011.

“The fact remains there’s still seven million illegal aliens occupying jobs that should go to American citizens,” said Bob Dane, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “It’s nowhere near mission accomplished.”

Dowell Myers, Professor of Public Policy at the University of Southern California, said “The immigration crisis that has roiled American politics for decades has faded into history… [W]e must shift from an immigration policy, with its emphasis on keeping newcomers out, to an immigrant policy, with an emphasis on encouraging migrants and their children to integrate into our social fabric.”

According to the Pew Hispanic Center and the Los Angeles Times, Mexicans now comprise about 59% of the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States and 30% of all 40 million US immigrants. The next largest country of origin for US immigrants, China, accounts for 5% of total immigrants and 2.4% of undocumented immigrants.


Associated Press, “Mexican Migrant Numbers Decline,”, Apr. 23, 2012
Paloma Esquivel and Hector Becerra, “Report Finds Wave of Mexican Immigration to US Has Ended,” Los Angeles Times, Apr. 24, 2012

Jeffrey Passel, D’Vera Cohn, and Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, “Net Migration from Mexico Falls to Zero—and Perhaps Less,”, Apr. 23, 2012