Illegal immigration and what to do about it has emerged as one of the more controversial issues as America heads into the 2012 election year. Republican presidential candidates have vied for the toughest response—from more military troops to electrified fences along the border with Mexico. The Obama administrationis busy setting records for deporting illegal immigrants. Yet figures released last week by the Department of Homeland Security show that illegal immigration may not be such a big problem after all.
In the fiscal year through the end of September, just 328,000 people were caught trying the difficult and dangerous border crossing, a 27 percent drop from 2010 and the lowest number since the early 1970s. The combination of high U.S. unemployment and the collapse of the construction sector; brutal gang violence in much of northern Mexico; and a gauntlet of drones, cameras, and Border Patrol agents on the U.S. side of the border has stopped large-scale illegal crossings, say immigration experts.
Notable as well is the fact that more Mexicans are returning home as their country's economy continues to outpace the United States'. In 2010, Mexico's economy grew nearly twice as fast as that of the U.S. and has continued robust gains this year. Mexico's government census data and surveys suggest that almost as many Mexicans are heading south—either voluntarily or because they were deported—as are heading north for the United States.