At about the same time the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments in the Justice Department’s challenge to the Arizona immigration law last month, there were a couple of developments which paint a much different vision of the future than might be guessed by Americans on either side of the immigration issue.

A few days before the much-publicized hearing, Audi announced it has selected Mexico as the site for its new SUV manufacturing plant, spurning several U.S. suitors, including Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama. This follows recent decisions by Honda, Mazda and Nissan to build or expand on plants in Mexico, which is projected to increase its auto manufacturing by over 40% by 2015.

This news adds context to the second development, a report by the Pew Hispanic Center that net migration from Mexico to the United States, legal and illegal, has slowed to a halt and may even be moving slightly in the other direction.

This trend began before the passage of the laws clamping down on illegal immigration in Arizona, Georgia and other states. It coincides, logically enough, with the collapse of the housing industry and the recession, which begs the question of whether an upturn in the economy could cause the stream of illegal immigration to swell again.

Over the short term that might well happen, but powerful forces are in play which make it unlikely the historic levels of Mexican immigration we’ve seen over the past four decades can be sustained. The most basic of these is demographic.

In 1960, Mexico’s fertility rate was 7.3 children per woman, compared to 3.6 per woman in the U.S. The fertility rate in Mexico has fallen since then much more dramatically than in the U.S.: 2.4 per woman in 2009, compared to 2.0 per woman in the U.S.

This huge demographic bulge of young, low-wage labor over the past half-century has been both a major factor in the tide of illegal immigration, as well as the essential ingredient in the development of agribusiness and the poultry-processing and carpet industries in the U.S.  The competition for Mexican and Guatemalan labor has been growing keener in these sectors for a few years now, and the birth rate statistics indicate it will only grow more so.

With a reduction in excess labor comes a change in economic fortunes. When NAFTA made it possible for large U.S. meatpackers to sell sausage in Mexico cheaper than local, traditional butchers, the U.S. industries recruiting cheap labor were the beneficiaries. But as the Mexican economy has become more industrialized, the U.S. has lost some of its competitive advantages to its southern neighbor. Even with the sharp drop in fertility, one of those advantages, for some time to come, will be a younger home-grown Mexican work force.

“We’re basically just on the front end of this production migration from Asia to Mexico,” Dave Starling, CEO of Kansas City Southern, a rail company which does a lot of trans-border business and follows developments in Mexico, said in a recent earnings call with investors.

“The perfect wave of competitive wage rates, favorable currency environment and significantly lower transportation rates to U.S. markets are all in play and we’ll see it rippling through our various business units,” Starling said.

One reason most U.S. analysts have been slow to pick up on these major economic developments is the attention focused on the gruesome gang wars, fueled by the flow of drugs from Mexico to the U.S. and guns from the U.S. to Mexico, which have killed more than 30,000 and at times threatened to destabilize the government. But we should remember that the Chicago stock yards ran just fine while Al Capone and his rivals were gunning it out with each other.

These demographic and economic forces foretell a change in immigration patterns, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the social tensions which have inflamed the debate over illegal immigration will subside at the same pace.

Births supplanted immigration as the biggest factor in the growth of the U.S. Hispanic population several years ago. That’s a clear indication that Hispanic-Americans will remain a substantial component of the U.S. population, no matter what immigration laws the states pass or how the Supreme Court rules on them. This is rather obvious, but the fact has been obscured in the current debate.

A half-century ago, when China was in the throes of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, it would have been hard to foresee a time when the U.S. would be dependent on Chinese credit.  It could be just as hard to envision a time when the economic fulcrum which has spurred the tide of Hispanic immigration is rebalanced. But we could be closer to that time than we think.

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern...

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    We have one way in returning the power to the American people, is to retire the majority of Democrats, Liberals and Republican politicians, and give that influence to the Constitutional TEA PARTY leadership. Under Obama we have seen the U.S. deficit rising to an almost fanatical 16 trillion dollars. In Sen. Harry Reid’s party no move towards a balanced budget. Then both parties have deliberately ignored the astronomical $113 billion dollars a year, pander to the 20 plus million illegal migrants and immigrants already settled here. Our only real chance to stop the illegal invaders is adopting more Tea Party Senators and Representatives. Millions of demoralized Americans of different racial make-ups, religions and political parties have joined the Tea Party that represents all citizens, permanent residents whether of Hispanic, Latino, European, and Asian, Pacific Rim or any part of the world’s population who came here legally.
    Beginning with Arizona v. the justice Department who revolted against the high court’s unfunded mandates, that STATES must give health care, an education and welfare programs to anybody who can slither past our fences or just lie to an agent, when they alighting from a jet plane from another country. Other than Sanctuary states, the rest are waiting for the outcome in June by SCOTUS. Patiently waiting is Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and the majority of other states to at least have some confirmation, whether they can advance a policing policy to check a person’s eligibility to be in the United States?
    Senator Marco Rubio has his own plan for the Dream Act, other than the very incendiary law that Democrats have in mind. For any realistic chance of the Dream Act gaining passage in Congress, certain provisions must be in effect. The central government has to enact a nationwide mandatory E-Verify program, that Chain Migration must be rescinded from immigration law, that only children below the age of ten would be considered and that all recipients to obtain a path to citizenship, must depart the country and apply for a entry at an Embassy, as every other patient immigrant must do. A larger majority of the Tea Party members would also insist that the Birthright Citizenship law be amended, so no pregnant illegal alien mother or parents could take advantage any more with their child/children getting instant citizenship. That no baby/infant should become a taxpayer’s burden, unless one parent is a U.S. citizen. Over the years this law has become mutated, and should not be a foothold, for every illegal migrant or immigrant who smuggles themselves into America to gain admittance to welfare and public assistance. Our own pregnant females suffer a large disadvantage by the hospital clogged by illegal alien Mothers, whereas citizens and residents must pay maternity fees, while others get a free uncompensated ride. These programs should only be available to citizens, naturalized citizens and green card holders. 
    That the farming and agricultural commerce have an obligation to pay the benefits for their labor and not the state’s taxpayers.  There will no importation of migrant poverty anymore, by cutting off access to welfare, food stamps, and section 8 housing programs. Taxpayer doesn’t need or should we accept any new low skilled workers, instead we must necessitate in supplying our own citizens with more occupational programs.  Further we must safeguard our voting system which has been compromised by the far left, its Liberal associates, Democrats and groups like ACORN that became a vital factor of a growing number of state requiring official ID to vote. Illegal aliens are voting and will again in local, state and federal elections and this dishonesty must be ended. Another set of regulations to amend, would be a careful examination of the current visa system allowing around a million legal immigrants annually into the U.S. No further violation can be tolerated from businesses and we should only permit the highest intelligence in engineering, the sciences, mathematicians and computer technology professionals to immigrate.
    Illegal immigration must become a thing of the past by securing our border fences. Business that intentionally ignores E-Verify should face harsh sanctions, including prison.  Elected officials, who allow such provisions as Sanctuary City ordinances, should be punished and government legislators should sever funds to these perpetrators. All federal and state legislators, governors, majors, police chiefs should be put on notice, that voters will unseat them, specially the Tea Party members. Any illegal alien invaders of this sovereign country, should be prosecuted as a Felony, not a civil infraction, with ID theft or Voter Fraud should be mandatory prison sentence, with no exceptions.
    America is bleeding badly from years of neglect by both political parties and pampering of foreign nationals cannot be accepted any more as the norm. Internal enforcement is more urgent than ever before, because of supporting illegal aliens is skyrocketing and taxpayers are on the hook. Illegal aliens have also found a way, to obtain $4.6 billion dollars annually by defrauding the IRS and the taxpayers, using non-existent children tax credits. Elections are no longer safe as Democrats and their less honest followers are participating in voter fraud. We either need a national ID card or that all voters must possess a government picture ID for proof of who they are?
    If you cherish your freedoms from the corruption in Washington that benefits all of us, we need a balanced tax system with no subsidies, a right to drill on the Peoples National land and sea for plentiful reservoirs of oil, natural gas to alleviate our out-of-control deficit. No more government bail outs for the friends of the White house. Throw out all the profiteering lawmakers and by cleaning house, put recognizable TEA PARTY leaders in their place. Voters need to demand from Congress, specifically from GOP House speaker, John Boehner of Ohio and Dave Camp of Michigan, as the Chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee to stop blocking the 50-state E-Verify bill.  Call the central switchboard at 202-224-3121 Washington, DC. For further information on this crisis subject, check with NumbersUSA website, where even Congress consults on immigration matters. 

  2. The New York Times ran a large spread on this issue some time back; my apologies that I don’t have time to go dig it out… It really flew in the face of the anti-immigrant posturings~ I (hazily) remember it also included interviews with teens and 20-somethings who were staying in Mexico to get an advanced education and a good job…

  3. And don’t forget this younger workforce from Central America was just the antidote needed to rescue Social Security which is feeling a great deal of pressure because of our aging population that has left less working age people supporting more retired folks.   
    And clearly our excess real estate stock could use more residents to soak up some of the housing.

  4.   Is the NYT article.   NAFTA wrecked havoc on many careers/incomes in Mexico, I was not aware of the Meatpacker example but that makes sense.  Its unfortunate that it seems international trade seems to put the smaller semi successful business men out of business because of large multi national companies taking over and squeezing the labor force. 
    The real threat facing our country is a international trade that instead of bringing our middle class prosperity everywhere brings the large divide between the haves and haves not from other countries to us.   Census figures showing the alarming growth in the share of wealth held by the top 1% suggests that thus far free trade has been bringing the large divided to us.

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