Past experience and current trends in both Mexico and the United States suggest that legalization would not lead to a sudden flood of illegal immigration on the scale of what occurred after 1986. Long-running surveys of migrants from Mexico found that work, not the potential to gain legal status, was the main cause of increased border crossings in the 1990s and 2000s.
The pretty houses in the hills here, with their bright paint and new additions, clearly display the material benefits of having millions of workers move to the United States over the past few decades. But these simple homes also reveal why another huge exodus would be unlikely: the bulk of them are empty.
All across Mexico’s ruddy central plains, most of the people who could go north already have. In a region long regarded as a bellwether of illegal immigration — where the flow of migrants has often seemed never-ending — the streets are wind-whipped and silent. Homes await returning families, while dozens of schools have closed because of a lack of students. Here in El Cargadero, a once-thriving farm community of 3,000, only a few hundred people remain, at most.
“It’s not like it used to be,” said Fermin Saldivar Ureño, 45, an avocado farmer whose 13 brothers and sisters are all in California. “I have three kids, my parents had 14. There just aren’t as many people to go.”
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