Commentary: As Mexican immigration hits standstill, will political winds shift?

The Sacramento BeeMay 14, 2012 

For many Californians 50 and younger, the state's tortured relationship with Mexico has been a constant.

That's because the last 40 years saw a massive migration of 12 million immigrants from Mexico, which spawned years of political discord and ethnic bashing.

Yet with few ripples and making mostly back-page news, the Pew Hispanic Center declared two weeks ago that net migration from Mexico to the United States – with California the most frequent destination – had virtually ended.

"We do know that the current standstill is more than just a temporary pause," said Paul Taylor, director of the nonpartisan think tank and an authority on Latino immigration.

"Net migration from Mexico has been at zero – and perhaps less – since 2007."

The economic slowdown, tougher immigration enforcement under President Barack Obama and danger along the border region are cited as the biggest reasons why Mexicans are staying home.

According to the Associated Press, the Border Patrol made 327,577 apprehensions last year, the lowest since 1971. That's also down 80 percent from 1.6 million apprehensions in 2000.

Meanwhile, the number of Border Patrol agents has doubled since 2004 to 21,000, the AP has reported.

We can't say the border region has been locked down.

But only the most nativist voices among us continue to beat the drum of the U.S.-Mexico border as a dire threat to our republic. In testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher said the new reality calls for more nuanced strategies of enforcement. Agents use intelligence to target repeat border offenders and dangerous criminals posing imminent security risks.

Other federal agencies are using the same strategy.

"Unless they are national security risks or public safety issues, we are not bringing immigrants before an immigration judge," said Ramon Castillo, chief of staff at the Sacramento branch of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

What does it mean? For starters, negative public perception on immigration hasn't caught up with reality.

With a break in the immigration wave, the hope is that the public's perception will shift and people will see a benefit to immigration reform so undocumented workers toiling in low-wage jobs can acquire legal residency.

We also can hope that the coming boom in Latino voting in 2014 and beyond will eventually overpower negative ethnic politics.

Yes, send rapists and drug dealers back to their country. But like the Italians and Irish of yesteryear, many Mexican immigrants are generating positive returns with their emotional and financial investments in America.

We see it in our lives every day. Hopefully it will become the new reality of the near future.

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service