Mexican immigration to the U.S. since 1850 Mexican immigration to the U.S. since 1850. pew research center

Mexicans coming back for family, economics

1 million returned from U.S. to Mexico over five-year period

After historic high numbers of northward migration, more Mexicans appear to be returning home than arriving in the United States, spurred on by family values and declining economic expectations, says a new analysis by the Pew Research Center.

Between 2009 and 2014, the Mexican population in the U.S. declined by 140,000 as 1 million left their wealthy northern neighbor to go back to their country of origin, according to the Mexican National Survey of Demographic Dynamics (ENADID).

This reversal comes after what has been one of the greatest waves of migration in recent history, with an estimated 16 million Mexicans moving to the U.S. in the past half century.

Between 1995 and 2000 alone, 2.27 million Mexicans migrated to the U.S., spurred on by the promise of a better life.

One clue to the recent change in the trend is in current perceptions: today one-third of Mexicans believe their standard of living would be no higher north of the border, compared to less than one-quarter who thought so in 2007. And less than half (48%) believe life would be better in the U.S.

The Mexican population there peaked in 2007 at 12.8 million, falling to 11.7 million last year as new arrivals dropped sharply.

The ENADID survey also indicated that family ties had played a large part in the rising numbers of Mexicans moving back south of the border: six in 10 of those who said they had lived in the U.S. five years ago but were back in Mexico as of last year cited reunification with loved ones as the main reason. Just 14% said they had been deported.

However, the American Dream still appears to hold some sway over the Mexican imagination, as 35% of respondents in Mexico said they would move to the U.S. if they had a chance, and one-fifth of adults said they would do so illegally, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

This remains largely unchanged from figures in 2009, which found that one-third of adults would move, 18% of them without authorization.

The fall in net migration from Mexico to the U.S. is also reflected in the dwindling number of Mexicans who say people with whom they are close are living north of the border. Forty-two per cent of respondents in 2007 said they regularly kept in touch with friends or family north of the border, but today the figure is 35%.

The Pew Research report acknowledges that measuring migration between the two countries difficult because there are no official counts of Mexican immigrants who enter and leave the U.S. each year. So it used a national household survey and two national censuses in Mexico and migration estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau to come up with the figures.

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