Mitt Romney's vision of 'self-deportation' may be under way.
Mexican 'illegals' are headed home in huge numbers, according to a new study. Few issues incite uglier debate than whether America's millions of illegal aliens – mostly Mexicans – should be rounded up and deported back to the Rio Grande.
'Wetbacks Go Home' isn't the nastiest sentiment found on posters, car bumpers and signs. But it's emblematic of the volatile mix of racism, duplicity, people-smuggling, stereotyping and the bitter economic realities that combine to fuel hostility.
Now, it seems, the problem may be solving itself. Mexicans are going home in droves, driven by pressure and lured by a better life.
Estimates of 'illegals' in the United States range as high as 15 million, although most suggest the number is closer to 10 million, most of them Mexicans. They toil picking fruit, cleaning houses, on construction sites, in meat-packing plants. Mostly, they take the jobs most Americans don't want, even in hard times.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the number of Mexicans leaving America matches, and may exceed, those arriving.
"The largest wave of immigration in history from a single country to the United States has come to a standstill," the report said.
A tougher-to-cross southern border, President Barack Obama's aggressive deportation program, America's weak economy, Mexico's sharply-declining birthrate and improved job prospects south of the border are all factors in the dramatically changed migration flow, according to Pew.
Nearly 400,000 illegals, most of them Mexicans, were caught and deported in 2010, a sharp rise.
Meanwhile, heavily fortified sections of the southern border have driven prices charged by 'coyotes' – the smugglers who secret illegals across – up as high as $4,000. That not only deters many, but it makes the old pattern of easy, cross-border movement far more expensive.
The result has been a sharp drop in captures along the border, indicative of a drop-off in attempts. "Apprehensions of Mexicans trying to cross the border illegally have plummeted by more than 70 per cent in recent years, from more than 1 million in 2005 to 286,000 in 2011 – a likely indication that fewer unauthorized immigrants are trying to cross. This decline has occurred at a time when funding in the U.S. for border enforcement – including more agents and more fencing – has risen sharply," said the Pew report.
None of which will keep illegal immigration from remaining a hot-button topic in the current election campaign. Mitt Romney, the all-but-certain Republican nominee, has been both lampooned and lauded for his plan to employ 'self-deportation,' to rid America of illegals. In effect, he says he intends to make life so unpleasant that illegals opt to leave.
"The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can't find work here because they don't have legal documentation to allow them to work here," he said. "So we're not going to round people up," he added, to the dismay of many hard-liners.
If Pew's assessment, based on data from census and other population studies, is correct, then Mr. Romney's grand vision may already be under way.
Pew estimates that roughly 1.4-million Mexicans came to the United States in the five years ending 2010, a figure roughly matched by 1.4-million Mexicans and their U.S.-born children who moved to Mexico. In the five preceding years, the flow was 3-million northbound and less than 700,000 southbound, for a net increase of 2.3-million.
Mr. Obama, regarded by his critics as soft on illegal immigration, promised comprehensive reform before he was first elected in 2008. Fears that 'reform' was doublespeak for some sort of amnesty allowing illegals to remain, scuttled the effort. Mr. Obama says he will try again if re-elected.
Immigration policy remains crucial in the battle for the large, growing and increasingly important Hispanic vote as well as the support of those who want illegals kept out or thrown out.
"We have strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible," Mr. Obama boasts. But fewer jobs in America and improving standards of living south of the Rio Grande may have done more than electrified fences and drone patrols to reverse Mexican migration.