Ebb and Flow

As I’ve been pointing out for some time now the hysteria about large numbers of legal and illegal Mexican immigrants has been misplaced:

It may just be the most dramatic story of the year. The U.S. Border Patrol announced a stunning 38% drop in illegal immigrant apprehensions in the fiscal year from October through June.

On the Mexican side, the Associated Press reports that migrant shelters are full, but the emigrants are heading south. In the U.S., towns full of newer illegal immigrants, like Carpentersville, Ill., now report them emptying out.

In harder numbers, migrant remittances are down. Mexico’s central bank reported incoming remittances rose only 0.6% in the first half of 2007, compared with a 23% rise in the first half of last year.

In U.S. states with the newest waves of immigration, the drop-off was highest. If, as the Inter-American Development Bank has found, new immigrants are the most likely to send remittances, then fewer illegals are coming.

There are lots of likely reasons for this change in the pattern of immigration from Mexico, some mentioned by the editorial, some not. Demographics is one of the most important. There just aren’t as many Mexicans in the age cohorts most likely to emigrate as there used to be. Economic reforms in Mexico result in increased economic growth there which reduces the push pressures. Hopefully, reforms in credit in Mexico will make it a more attractive business and living climate, too.

More enforcement on the U. S. side, particularly recently, has raised the transaction cost of immigration. Many Mexican immigrants have been employed in housing construction. The turndown in new housing construction has reduced the pull pressures.

I think that Mexican nationalism is probably a force, too. It’s an odd sort of nationalism if you can’t stand to stay at home.

There are lots of American businesses, even industries, that have come to depend on a large, continuing number of entry-level workers. I’ve already expressed my preferences on this: I’d rather see an America whose prosperity was based on skills and creativity and capital investment than one trying to be the lowest-cost producer based on cheap labor. And, yes, it is largely an either-or proposition since the strategies are in competition with one another. As the Mexico immigration flow slows, I wonder where the companies dependent on that flow will get their next supply, what the costs of assimilation of the new immigrants will be, and who will pay them?

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