Despite violence, fewer Mexicans crossing into U.S.

Illegal immigration from Mexico has slowed dramatically from a few years ago as would-be border crossers are finding more economic and educational opportunities at home.

That's the conclusion of a New York Times feature by Damien Cave, which points to research that suggests only 100,000 illegal immigrants from Mexico, including visa violators, came to America last year. That's down from from the 525,000 who came over each year between 2000 and 2004.

But there's another possible factor behind the diminished stream of Mexican immigrants crossing the U.S. border: the brutal drug wars in Mexico, which have claimed many would-be immigrants as collateral casualties. Mexico has faced surging violence since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels in 2006. Though the country is now far more violent than it was then, it's proven even more dangerous to try to leave it. Many potential immigrants are electing to stay in the country rather than risk getting caught in the cross fire.

In the past year, pits of human remains have been found near the U.S. border, and authorities say the bodies were those of migrants who were captured by drug cartels, or double-crossed by cartel members who promised to guide them into America. As we reported at The Lookout, human smuggling is now completely dominated by drug cartels--a marked departure the earlier model of a small network of freelancing coyotes. Beefed-up U.S. Border Control presence has also pushed illegal immigrants to dangerous Arizona crossings, where hundreds each year die of dehydration.

But Cave suggests in his New York Times story that the longer-term economic and demographic trends in Mexico may produce a smaller cohort of illegal immigrants to the United States in the years ahead. Chief among these trends, he writes, is the quickly rising economic opportunities at home and a lower birth rate. The economist Roberto Newell told Cave that Mexico's per capita gross domestic product and income have both risen 45 percent since 2000, even as the average birth rate continues to fall, and now stands at about two children per family. And meanwhile, the recession in the United States has narrowed the gap between what an undocumented worker could earn here and what he or she could earn by staying in Mexico.