MEXICO CITY, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- Mexico's ambassador to the United States said Tuesday migration between the two countries has changed drastically -- more Mexicans now return to Mexico than enter the United States -- and policy needs to catch up.
"The single most important change is the sheer reduction in the number of Mexicans that migrate to the United States," said Ambassador Gerónimo Gutiérrez, speaking at a conference of the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Migration Policy Institute, two think tanks in Washington, D.C. "Mexican irregular migration into the United States quite clearly peaked precisely at the turn of the century and since then has been pretty much in decline."
The two nations need to work together for safe, orderly, legal and smart migration, he said, adding that "the present status quo is clearly and simply unacceptable for everybody and affects the tone, the substance and the perspectives of the overall bilateral relationship."
The U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 1.6 million Mexican nationals on the southern border in 2000, according to U.S. government figures. In 2016, there were 192,969 Mexican national apprehensions.
Today, rather than agricultural laborers looking for work in the United States, Mexican migration is far more diverse and better educated.
"From farmworkers to engineers, restaurant owners to computer coders, Mexican immigrants reflect more and more the diversity and richness of the Mexican labor force," Gutiérrez said.
Mexicans take second place only to Indian nationals in professional jobs held in the United States.
Panelists from diplomacy, business, policy research centers and academia at the conference agreed with Gutiérrez's assessment, explaining recent changes in Mexican migration to the United States.
Fewer Mexican nationals in U.S.
"Mexicans have found better opportunities in Mexico over the last 20 years," Gutiérrez said, "Mexican migration to the United States is no longer an intractable problem."
More Mexicans now return, voluntarily and involuntarily, to Mexico each year than enter the United States.
"Between 2016 and 2017, the Mexican immigrant population shrunk by about 300,000 from 11.6 million to 11.3 million, after four decades of strong growth," said Ariel Ruiz Soto, associate policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.
Improving the Mexican economy, stepped up U.S. immigration enforcement, and the long- term drop in Mexico's birth rates help explain why Mexicans are not migrating in the numbers they used to, Ruiz said.
In 2010, Mexicans were the largest immigrant group in the United States, with a 29 percent share. But fast-forward seven years and Mexicans' share dropped four points to 25 percent of the foreign born U.S. population.
Central American migrants' share of the U.S. population has stayed static for these same years, at around 3 percent of the foreign born for the northern triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, the researcher said.
There are 44.5 million immigrants living in the United States, Ruiz said, and 89 percent of Mexican immigrants have been in the country since 2009. He emphasized that the majority of Mexican nationals living in the United States are documented rather than living in the country illegally.
Life in U.S. for Mexicans
The United States has become less popular with Mexicans since the 2016 election of President Donald Trump. Only 6 percent of Mexico's population view Trump favorably, said Mark Hugo López, director of global migration and demography research at the Pew Research Center.
"There has been a decline in the share of Mexicans who say they would like to work and live in the United States," López said. "That share is now down to 32 percent from a high of 37 percent in 2011."
The percentage of Mexicans who said they would unlawfully migrate north has dropped sharply, he said.
Mexican immigrants have become more pessimistic and fearful about life and their place in the United States. López shared up-to-date unpublished survey research for 2018 demonstrating that 71 percent of Mexicans living in the United States fear deportation "some" or "a lot," while only 55 percent of Latino immigrants share the same fear.
The number of Mexican immigrants, both recent arrivals and long-term residents, who said they would repeat the experience of moving to the United States has also dropped in recent years. In 2011, 82 percent of Mexican immigrants would do it again, whereas in 2018 it's 70 percent.
Ramiro Cavazos, a seventh-generation Texan from San Antonio who serves as CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, spoke about the importance of Mexican and Latino to life in the United States.
"Latinos today contribute $1.5 trillion in purchasing power to the U.S. economy," Cavazos said. "I'm an optimist because we control the future workforce of this country, we control the future vendors and people who do business in this country, and we also are the largest and fastest-growing consumer base for this country."
Cavazos addressed the Trump administration's aggressive immigration enforcement: "There is no wall high enough or long enough to exclude us from this country and its future. By 2060, 1 in 4 Americans will be Hispanic. A fence will only keep us in, not keep us out."