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Fewer Mexicans Crossing the Border

The number of Mexicans moving to the USA has dropped sharply since the middle of the decade, according to a new report by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Figures from various sources, including the Census Bureau, show that 30% to 50% fewer Mexicans came here - legally or illegally - in 2008 compared with 2006, says Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at the non-partisan research center, who is a co-author of the study.

At the same time, there's no evidence that more Mexicans here are going home, despite anecdotal reports of reverse migration, he says.

About 11.5 million people born in Mexico call the USA home. They account for one-third of all foreign-born residents and two-thirds of foreign-born Hispanics, the report says.

"People in Mexico are very aware that there's an economic crisis in the U.S. and that there are far fewer jobs," says David Fitzgerald, associate director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California-San Diego.

In January, he interviewed people in the Mexican town of Tunkás. "Most people in the last year or so have put off their plans to migrate to the U.S.," he says.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials attribute the falling numbers to tougher border enforcement. The number of Border Patrol agents has ballooned to about 19,000 now from 9,800 in late 2002.

"Our smart enforcement is deterring people from coming in," says CBP spokesman Steven Cribby.

Last year, 653,035 of the 705,005 people caught breaching the southern border were Mexican, he says.

The study cites Border Patrol statistics that show fewer people being caught entering the USA illegally, which the agency says reflects fewer people trying. It also uses the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey and Mexican government surveys.

"If there are jobs available for the Mexican immigrants, they'll come," Passel says. "If not, it doesn't make sense for them to risk crossing and the expense of crossing"

From March 2008 to March 2009, 175,000 Mexicans came to the USA, the lowest point this decade, Census Bureau figures show. In 2006-2007, about 287,000 came.

Mexicans here told Fitzgerald they're trying to weather the recession, spending less money and sending less home.

Mexico's economy is worse than the U.S. economy, he says. "There are very few jobs in Mexico to return to."

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