Why Immigration is on the Decline

Comedian David Letterman once quipped “They say there are about 12 million illegal immigrants in this country. But if you ask a Native American, that number is more like 300 million.”  Jokes aside, immigration has always been an integral part of the United States’ culture and economy, ever since the Puritans arrived in the early 1600s. Since then, immigration has always been on a rise, surging especially since the 1965 Immigration Act was passed. Unfortunately, the Pew Hispanic Center noted a “notable reversal on the historic pattern” in 2012, when it discovered that the number of Mexican immigrants leaving the US was a record high, while those entering the US were declining sharply. This leads to the obvious question of why this is happening, and the answer lies in three key areas.

First, a weaker job market in the United States in the United States doesn’t provide an incentive for prospective immigrants, and is actually causing many to leave the country. The Mexican immigrant population is the largest group in the United States, and between 2007 and 2011, the population of unauthorized Mexican immigrants living in the country has fallen from 7 million to 6.1 million. This is the first time since the Great Depression that more Mexicans are leaving the United States than those that are entering. Many experts suggest that high rates of unemployment in the construction and services industry is causing many immigrants to return home or not even come in the first place. This isn’t just limited to Mexicans however. The 2010 Census showed a total 14% decline in the Asian population in Chinatowns, and a decrease of about 17,000 immigrants yearly from 2006 to 2010. A lower demand for service industry jobs is causing many Asian immigrants to leave the United States or not come in the first place. On the other hand, job markets overseas are actually improving because of increasing outsourcings from the US.

Tougher immigration laws also undoubtedly play a role in the overall decline of immigrants. After the 1965 Immigration Act was passed, there was a spike in the amount of immigrants coming to U.S. In just a few years, two out of every five residents of Los Angeles was foreign born. A paper published by Professor Douglas Massey of Princeton University indicates that immigration has increased overall until 2001, where there was the first drop off in many years due to the Patriot Act, indicating that laws have a significant impact on overall immigration numbers as well. Senate Bill 1070 is another law recently that is causing a controversy. Arizona Senate Bill 1070 and other similar legislation in Florida and Georgia, essentially allow police to question and detain someone they believe is undocumented during lawful contact of any kind, with just “reasonable suspicion.” Laws like this one have caused many farms in Florida and Arizona to temporarily shut down because of exits. A long-standing policy of reducing H1B work visas reduces immigration with waiting lists of more than 120, 000 people.

Finally, prosperity at home means that the American Dream is no longer as relevant for many. David Abraham from the University of Miami explains that in Mexico, more women are going to school, delaying childbirth, and have manufacturing jobs. Compounded with an overall decrease in children per woman, Mexican families have more money and opportunity, so they don’t need to come to the United States for a better life.  Chinese and Indian immigration has fallen by 17,000 because many are now able to afford “big houses” due to the technological boom sweeping through India and China. Even worker immigrants are returning because governments have begun to offer financial aid, tax breaks and housing assistance. Overall, changes in the United States over the last few years many mean that the United States’ beacon of prosperity and promise for immigrants may be slowly dimming.


Jeffery Passel et. al, Pew Hispanic Center, “Net Migration from Mexico Falls to Zero—and Perhaps Less” (2012).

Bonnie Tsui, The Atlantic. “The End of Chinatown” (2012).

Douglas Massey, Princeton University. “The Great Decline in American Immigration” (2010).

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