How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Illegal immigration from Mexico is down, but legal immigration isn't

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In a short piece in The Atlantic today, Council on Foreign Relations fellow Shannon K. O'Neill points out that as net migration to the U.S. from Mexico has dropped sharply in recent years, there's an interesting wrinkle to the northbound migration that continues.

While illegal immigration from Mexico to the U.S. has decreased, legal immigration from Mexico is holding steady. And compared with the level of unauthorized vs. authorized migration from Mexico a decade ago, the percentage of those coming legally is way up. O'Neill writes:

Another migratory change has also occurred: of the Mexicans that still come to the United States, many more do so legally. At the start of the twenty-first century, less than 10 percent came with papers. A decade later, it is 50 percent.

What the piece links to is a lengthy U.S. State Department list of immigrant visas issued at foreign service posts abroad. The numbers bear it out: In 2000, there were 68, 412 U.S. immigrant visas issued to Mexicans at consular posts in Mexico; in 2010, there were 65,621.

These numbers have fluctuated in the years in between, but not to the same degree as has illegal immigration, the bulk of it from Mexico. While it's never been an exact measure, the number of reported U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants from Mexico peaked most recently in 2000 at more than 1.6 million arrests, dipped, then went up a bit again in the middle of the last decade. Since then, it has been steadily on the decline.

The majority of the U.S. immigrant visas being issued in Mexico are family reunification visas, O'Neill writes, although others come on H-visas for work, from skilled workers to farm labor. The number of those coming from Mexico on E-2 NAFTA visas for investors and business interests has doubled since 2000, she writes; also going up is the number of Mexicans arriving on EB-5 visas, entrepreneur visas which require a minimum $500,000 investment in a U.S. business and the creation of jobs.

Will it change the conversation about immigration from Mexico? Perhaps not immediately. Polls still suggest that perceptions in the U.S. about the border, illegal immigration, and immigration in general don't reflect the current reality seen in the numbers. But it's food for thought.

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