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Opinion

Changing immigration: So who pays for the fence?

It’s almost a shame. A lot of Americans, in Arizona and elsewhere, have put in a lot of effort over the years to oppose the influx of Mexican immigrants who threaten to transform our culture and change forever what it means to be an American.

Indeed, the idea of expanding the fence along the Mexican border remains a key talking point in the current Republican primary campaign.

Sadly, however, mass immigration turns out to be a moving target. As reported by the online policy site, Stateline*, Mexico is no longer the most common country of origin for new documented and undocumented immigrants in 37 of the 50 states,

Is it time to rethink the fence?

As U.S. Census Bureau figures show, there’s been steep decline in Mexican immigration since 2005, while newcomers from Asia, especially China and India, have become the dominant source of immigrants to the U.S.

A decade ago, Stateline reports, Mexico was the most common country of origin for new immigrants in 33 states. By 2014, however, Mexico was the main source of new arrivals in only a dozen states. Immigrants from China or India were predominant in twice as many states.

As is so often the case, a major underlying cause is economic. Mexican immigration – legal and otherwise – boomed along with Arizona’s housing boom, as Mexicans came to fill low- and semi-skilled jobs. But the housing bust chased many away. In fact, undocumented Mexican immigration peaked nationally in 2007 and has since dropped by a million, to 5.6 million, according to a recent Pew Research Center report. In Arizona, the number of new immigrants from Mexico dropped by 80% between 2005 and 2014.

The other part of the economic argument is the rising market in America for people with technical and scientific skills, most of them so far coming from India and China. Today’s newest immigrants are more likely to arrive legally and with college degrees than a decade ago, according to the Washington D.C.–based Migration Policy Institute (MPI)** They needn’t understand any part of “illegal."

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Demographics don’t change quickly, Mexico is still the country of origin for most immigrants in the U.S., MPI notes. There are 11.7 million Mexican immigrants in the U.S., compared to fewer than 5 million from India and China. But the trend towards increasing Asian immigration seems likely to continue its rapid pace, especially as U.S. companies increasingly compete for scientists and technicians over construction workers and landscapers.

The MPI report asserts that “large-scale Mexican migration to the United States—once taken for granted—appears to be winding down. The new prominence of Asian migration may herald a significant and long-term transition in the demographics of future U.S. immigration.”

So who’s going to pay for the fence?

Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.

Bill Hart is a senior policy analyst at Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

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Brittany Ducksworth/Cronkite News

The Nogales, Sonora, side of the fence at the border.

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