The cresting of the great generation-long wave of legal and illegal immigration from Mexico won't meaningfully affect the political leverage of Hispanics in the U.S. for decades, if ever. But some Hispanic leaders worry that their political influence will ebb in November nonetheless.
The Pew Hispanic Center drew widespread attention last month when it reported that the seemingly unending migration flow that had brought some 12 million Mexicans, both legally and illegally, to the U.S. over the past four decades had ceased, if not reversed. Using Census and other data from both nations, Pew estimated that from 2005 to 2010, 1.37 million Mexicans arrived in the U.S. (both legally and illegally) while 1.39 million Mexicans already in the U.S. migrated in the opposite direction. "While it is not possible to say so with certainty," Pew concluded, "the trend lines within this latest five-year period suggest that return flow to Mexico probably exceeded the inflow from Mexico during the past year or two."
If sustained, this trend will affect the growth of the Mexican-American population over the long term (especially the very long term). But most experts agree it will have little impact on the evolution of the Hispanic electorate in the U.S. for at least the next several decades.
"If you are talking a whole generation out, say 2050, it does make a difference," says Jeffrey Passel, the Pew senior demographer who wrote the study. "But if you are talking about 8, 10, 12 years, the answer is: probably not very much."
The reason is that immigration is no longer the key to the growth of the Mexican-American population overall, and it is even less important to the rise of Hispanics in the electorate. As Pew calculated in 2011, new immigrants accounted for only a little over one-third of the 11.4 million increase in the Mexican-American population from 2000 to 2010. By contrast, Mexican-American children born in the U.S. represented 63 percent of the group's growing population over that decade.