Image: Farmer in Mexico
Henry Romero  /  Reuters
A farmer walks beside his horse along the streets of Acatzingo, Mexico, Oct. 3.
updated 11/20/2008 7:17:26 PM ET 2008-11-21T00:17:26

Mexican emigration has dropped 42 percent over the last two years, a government study released Thursday showed, confirming that America has become less appealing amid an economic downturn and stepped-up raids against illegal migrants.

About eight of every 1,000 Mexicans emigrated between February and May of this year, according to the survey conducted by the National Statistics and Geography Institute. That's a 42 percent drop from the same period in 2006.

In all of 2007, an estimated 814,000 Mexicans emigrated, compared to 1.2 million in 2006. The figure — which was reached through household surveys — includes all Mexicans who left the country, and did not break down legal and illegal migration.

A summary of the investigation did not delve into the reasons for the drop. But experts say America's economic troubles and tighter border security have deterred many Mexicans from risking the journey to the United States, a trip that often means long desert treks, dodging bandits and bribing corrupt police.

The vast majority of Mexican migrants go to the United States.

'No longer an American dream'
The study did not offer statistics past May 2008. But experts expect the trend to continue amid the financial crisis that rattled markets worldwide in September.

"There is no longer an American dream, at least for the moment with the economic situation," said Victor Clark, the director of the Tijuana-based Binational Center for Human Rights, which works with illegal migrants. "News of mass raids snowball through towns that send a lot of migrants. In small northern towns, the news is that there is no work for Mexicans in the United States."

There have long been indications that Mexican emigration has been falling dramatically. The U.S. Border Patrol has reported a 39 percent drop since 2005 in the capture of migrants trying to cross the frontier illegally.

And Mexicans are sending less money home, hurting Mexico's second-largest source of foreign income behind oil exports. Remittances fell 12 percent to $1.9 billion in August, the biggest drop since record-keeping began 12 years ago, according to Mexico's central bank.

The statistics are part of the broader 2006-2008 National Survey of Occupation and Employment, which studied 120,000 households.

Going back home
The study found no significant change in the number of Mexicans coming home. But the drop in emigration was so large that by the end of 2007, more Mexicans were returning home than leaving the country, the study said.

Some authorities believe Mexican will see a surge of returning migrants as the economy worsens in the United States. Mexico City's municipal government has predicted that up to 30,000 more immigrants than usual will return from the U.S. over the next few months. Other towns across Mexico are also preparing for an influx of returning migrants.

Clark said it was too early to know whether Mexicans would start leaving the United States en masse, or whether emigration rates to the U.S. would recover after the crisis.

"It's a phenomenon that is barely starting to develop," he said. "Some immigrants say they will travel farther north in the United States to find work. But others say they will come back."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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