ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The Mexican-born population of the United States is huge, 12 million. And a little over half of that is people who are unauthorized, they're here illegally. Well, now a new study from the Pew Hispanic Center reports that after rising for many years, the number of Mexicans coming to the U.S. is now roughly equal to the number of Mexicans migrating away from the U.S., back to Mexico. In short, net migration has fallen to zero.
Pew finds several causes for that decline: Mexican demographics, the U.S. economy, U.S. border enforcement.
We thought we'd ask how the trend appears to Mexicans. And joining us from Mexico City is Professor Rafael Fernandez de Castro of the Autonomous Institute of Technology of Mexico.
Welcome to the program.
RAFAEL FERNÁNDEZ DE CASTRO: Thank you for having me in your program.
SIEGEL: And tell me, Professor Fernandez, what do you see as the biggest factors behind that zero net migration?
CASTRO: I would say that the number one reason behind this is the U.S. economy. It's the lack of jobs in the U.S., it's the high unemployment rate. The construction industry has been very low. So that is the number one factor, no doubt about it. But also, we have to say that there is this siege against the migrant population in places like Alabama, in places like in Arizona. I mean, there is local laws that they're basically profiling the Latino migrants. And that is not helping.
SIEGEL: And you're saying that is deterring Mexicans from coming to the U.S., people who might otherwise come? Or its sending people back home who are here?
CASTRO: It's definitely deterring. And also, I will say it's sending some people back. And I would say also, the third factor is about enforcement. Last year was a record year in deportations from inside the U.S. to Mexico, and to other countries in Latin America. And fourth, and this is very important, Robert. It's about there's better conditions in Mexico to live. It's a better life here than in the U.S. if you are an undocumented worker in the U.S.
SIEGEL: The first reason you cited for this surprising phenomenon of net zero migration is U.S. unemployment and the collapse of construction in which - where Mexican migrants found a great deal of work. In effect, the U.S. has been concealing some of its unemployment with Mexican migrants going back home instead of becoming part of the unemployed.
Does that suggest to you that this is a turning point in a trend that's been underway for many decades or is it just the dip? Is it the outlying period, because of the U.S. recession that puts a dent in a trend that will resume in a couple of years?
CASTRO: Well, that is a complicated question, Robert. And I'll tell you that this is a turning point. There's a consensus amongst scholars that when the U.S. economy will recover, there will be more Mexicans coming, but not to the previous levels, because of better conditions in Mexico and also because of demographics in Mexico. We Mexicans, we're having less children. Every couple have 2.3 children. In the 1980s, the fertility rate was almost five children.
SIEGEL: If the rate of remigration back to Mexico continues or accelerates, there are going to be a lot of children in Mexico who grew up speaking English. And if they started school, they started in an American school.
CASTRO: That is fascinating, Robert. And why, because in the last two or three years there are literally tens of thousands of new children in Mexico, in rural schools - Juanita Perez or Rafael Fernandez, like me.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
CASTRO: And this Rafael Fernández, it happens that he's a seven-year-old and he doesn't speak Spanish. So now the Mexican educational system will have to ask California how to go about bilingual education.
SIEGEL: Well, Professor Fernandez de Castro, thank you very much for talking with us today.
CASTRO: Thank you very much.
SIEGEL: That's Professor Rafael Fernandez de Castro of the Autonomous Institute of Technology of Mexico. He's a specialist in U.S.-Mexican relations and he spoke to us from Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.