Ned Barnett

A Mexican invasion that isn’t

Amid the U.S. hysteria over keeping out Syrian refugees, the news arrived almost unnoticed: Many Mexicans in the U.S. are going home.

A report last week from the Pew Research Center shows that more Mexicans are leaving the United States than are coming in. More than a million Mexicans and their families left the United States from 2009 to 2014 while 870,000 came in, a net outflow of 140,000.

The reasons vary for the reverse in the immigration pattern. Key causes are likely a slow U.S. economic recovery and an improving economy in Mexico. Another may be a longing for home and family. The Pew report analyzed data from a survey of residential history among Mexicans. Of those who said they had lived in the United States in 2009, 61 percent said they returned to their native country to rejoin or start a family.

Whatever the reasons, the trend throws a wrench into the machinery of xenophobia and complicates Donald Trump’s plan for a 1,954-mile wall to keep the hordes of undocumented Mexicans and others from South and Central America out of the United States.

The Pew report follows a 2012 study that found the influx and departures of Mexicans basically even. Now more are heading for the exits. That means for several years on the national and state levels, especially in North Carolina, lawmakers have been taking drastic steps to stop a tide that is going out.

Javier Diaz de Leon, the Consul General of Mexico in Raleigh, told me that the number of Mexicans coming to the United States has waned for years as the job market in Mexico has improved. With Mexico’s population aging and its economy steadily growing, he thinks the day will come when Mexico will compete with the United States for young workers.

“The nature of immigration is changing fast. It is changing dramatically,” he said.

Given that change, he’s chagrined by the latest focus on securing the border and cracking down on undocumented workers. “It would be much better to look at things based on real facts, and the real fact is that immigration from Mexico has not only stopped, now it is going the other way,” he said.

Someone can take Trump aside to quietly tell him, “About that wall ...,” but it will be harder to undo the damage done in North Carolina by reactionary laws, the most egregious of which was the latest one, House Bill 318, titled the “Protect North Carolina Workers Act.”

The law signed in October by Gov. Pat McCrory forbids municipalities from being so-called “sanctuary cities” where police do not ask about a person’s immigration status. It also bans police and government agencies from accepting certain IDs, including those from consulates, often the only ID available to some immigrants. Finally, it requires that contractors working for state and local governments verify the immigration status of their employees.

Rep. George Cleveland, an Onslow County Republican and chief sponsor of the law, said it’s intended to drive undocumented immigrants out of the country by making it harder for them to find work. “If you take away their ability to make a living, they will deport themselves,” he said.

The law prompted a protest by Hispanics outside the Executive Mansion that led to arrests and national coverage in The New York Times about North Carolina’s crackdown. The story included comments from Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez who said the law will cause many undocumented immigrants to flee from minor incidents from fear of being deported. Others may now avoid reporting crimes.

Angeline Echeverria, executive director of the advocacy group El Pueblo, said the law is sending a chill through the immigrant community and feeding broader discrimination. For instance, she said, some pharmacies are wrongly citing the law and refusing to accept consulate IDs for prescriptions.

“The intention behind the bill was so clear – to make immigrants feel unwelcome – that it gets interpreted even beyond the scope of the law itself,” she said.

El Pueblo is nonpartisan, but Echeverria says the law is provoking a political response among Hispanics who are American citizens.

“I’ve definitely heard community members asking more pointed questions about when are the elections for the people who passed this bill?” she said.

That response doesn’t bother Cleveland, who dismissed the people who called for a veto of his law outside the Executive Residence. “The groups that protest this type of thing do the same thing whenever they get their knickers in a knot,” Cleveland said.

But the ones who’ve really got their knickers in a knot are immigration hardliners who are panicked by a Mexican invasion that isn’t.

Barnett, 919-829-4512, nbarnett@newsobserver. com