At a time when statistics suggest that fewer Mexicans are setting out on the perilous journey across the border, a new study projects that newer immigrants, particularly Latinos, are expected to learn English, buy homes and acquire citizenship at high levels in the coming decades.
The data on declining immigration from Mexico along with the projections on integration patterns for newer immigrants appear at a particularly contentious moment in the national immigration debate, with many sectors calling for tighter border controls and more deportations.
The new report from the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan think tank, offers a portrait of integration patterns that seem to counter the popular notion that Hispanic immigrants are not assimilating to life in the U.S.
The study tracked immigrants that arrived during the 1990s and found that while only 25.5 percent of them owned their home in 2000, 70.3 percent are projected to be homeowners by 2030.
"This is the American Dream," a co-author of the study, Dowell Myers, a professor at the University of Southern California, said in a statement. "That achievement is something you don't hear about very often, because it doesn't support an agenda held by restrictionists."
The study also predicted that naturalization rates will rise from 13 percent to 70.6 percent by 2030. "Hispanic immigrants' advancements mirror that of all immigrants, albeit from a lower starting point," the study said.
In addition, the percent of immigrants speaking English well or very well is projected to rise from 57.5 percent to 70.3 percent, and those living in poverty are projected to fall from 22.8 percent to 13.4 percent.
"We should pay attention to immigrants' future achievement because we will greatly depend on their human resources in coming decades," the study said. "The coming retirement of the large generation of baby boomers, for example, is expected to create urgent labor needs among private and public employers, and falling labor force growth opens many opportunities for new workers."
The release of the report on the integration of immigrants coincides with data from both sides of the border suggesting that illegal immigration from Mexico is declining. The reasons for the "fast retreat" in immigration include U.S. job shortages, increased border enforcement and the presence of criminal gangs on the Mexican side of the border, according to the the Los Angeles Times:
Mexican census figures show that fewer Mexicans are setting out and many are returning — leaving net migration at close to zero, Mexican officials say. Arrests by the U.S. Border Patrol along the southwestern frontier, a common gauge of how many people try to cross without papers, tumbled to 304,755 during the 11 months ended in August, extending a nearly steady drop since a peak of 1.6 million in 2000.
The scale of the fall has prompted some to suggest that a decades-long migration boom may be ending, even as others argue that the decline is only momentary.
"Our country is not experiencing the population loss due to migration that was seen for nearly 50 years," Rene Zenteno, a deputy Mexico interior secretary for migration matters, has said.
Douglas Massey, an immigration scholar at Princeton University, said surveys of residents in Mexican migrant towns he has studied for many years found that the number of people making their first trip north had dwindled to near zero.
"We are at a new point in the history of migration between Mexico and the United States," Massey said in a Mexico City news conference in August hosted by Zenteno.
In Mexico, experts attribute the decline to the troubles of the U.S. economy and the disappearance of jobs that once attracted Mexican workers. About 12.5 million Mexican immigrants live in the United States, slightly more than half without papers, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Juan Carlos Calleros, a researcher at Mexico's National Migration Institute, told the Los Angeles Times that surveys found that many Mexican migrants who came home on their own or were deported had spent a month or two in the U.S. and returned because they were jobless.