My colleague Kelly Bennett already linked to this story in the The New York Times today about a slump in migration from Mexico. The story touches on an argument that has long split academics who study the border: Whether increased law enforcement at the border slows migration or whether drops in immigration are directly tied to the state of the nation’s economy.

In this story in 2007, I took a look at whether that ramped up law enforcement has contributed to a rise in illegal immigration by sea. Most of the people I spoke to for the story agreed that as it’s gotten tougher to cross the land border, more immigrants have been trying the more dangerous, and more expensive, sea route.

San Diego academic Wayne Cornelius doesn’t think enforcement has made much of a difference to the core issue of whether immigrants are attracted to the United States. I’ve spoken to Cornelius, who is about to retire, many times in the last few years. The Times talked to him too:

Wayne Cornelius, the director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego, predicted that if the United States job market revived, border enforcement would become much less of a deterrent.

The center has documented the causes of the decrease in Mexican migration though interviews this year with more than 1,000 Mexicans in California and in a Yucatán village that has been a source of migrants. In the interviews, all of the Mexicans who did set out from Yucatán for the United States reported that they eventually succeeded in crossing.

A couple of weeks ago, I stopped and chatted to a group of migrant workers standing waiting for work in my neighborhood of Encinitas. They told me times are tough and that they can’t find work. Things have really tightened up in the last few months as the economy has worsened, one migrant, Roberto Diaz, told me.

“It’s been difficult to find work, but it’s been difficult ever since the economy started going bad. But the last week has been even worse. It’s really, really slow,” he said.

A couple of years ago I wrote this series about a group of migrant workers camped out in a Carmel Valley canyon. If you’re interested in this issue, check it out.

I’ve also put in a couple of calls to people I know who work directly with the migrant population in San Diego, I’ll be interested to see what they say and I’ll pass it on.

On a related note, I just got an e-mail from UCSD’s Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies advertising a presentation by Carol Wise, a professor of political science at the University of Southern California, titled “Financial Crisis Incomes and Social Policy: Mexico and Argentina in Retrospect.”

The talk is on Wednesday, May 20 at 3:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public. It may well also be worth checking out if you’re interested in these issues. There’s more info on it here.


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