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last year — legal and illegal — fell to 12 million, marking an end to an immigration boom dating back to the 1970s, when foreign-born residents from Mexico stood at 760,000. Christian Ballesteros, who has been at a shelter for immigrants in Matamoros, Mexico, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, pointed to stiffer U. penalties for repeat offenders as well as brutal criminal groups that control the Mexican side of the border as reasons for the immigration decline.Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at Pew who co-wrote the analysis, said Mexican immigration may never return to its height during the mid-decade housing and construction boom, even with the U. He noted that government data now show a clear shift among Mexican workers already in the U. S., feeling squeezed by increasing enforcement and limited opportunities that they don’t see improving anytime soon. In the meantime, the number of Mexicans who entered the U. sharply fell to about 1.4 million, putting net migration from Mexico at a standstill. illegally and returned to Mexico also are increasingly saying they will not try to come back — about 20 percent, compared to 7 percent in 2005. Arizona’s law, being challenged by the Obama administration in the Supreme Court, seeks to expand the authority of state police to ask about the immigration status of anybody they stop on the rationale that federal enforcement has largely failed. Roughly 6.1 million unauthorized Mexican immigrants were living in the U. last year, down from a peak of nearly 7 million in 2007, according to the Pew Hispanic Center study released Monday. Much of the drop in illegal immigrants is due to the persistently weak U. economy, which has shrunk construction and service-sector jobs attractive to Mexican workers following the housing bust. “The Mexican cartels are taking over, are actually being like the border patrols on this side,” Ballesteros said. authorities, Ballesteros was sent to a detention facility in Las Vegas for 2½ months. immigration policy as the Supreme Court hears arguments this week on Arizona’s tough immigration law. patrols and violence along the border also have played a role, as well as demographic changes, such as Mexico’s declining birth rate. Ballesteros, who has been deported four times, was recently caught after hopping the border fence near Nogales, Ariz.

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WASHINGTON — The number of Mexican immigrants living illegally in the U. has dropped significantly for the first time in decades, a dramatic shift as many illegal workers, already in the U. and seeing few job opportunities, return to Mexico. “You can lose money, but if you lose time there’s no way you can recover that time,” Ballesteros said, noting that many immigrants have families to support. He cited longer-term factors such as a shrinking Mexican work force. He said that data is a sign that many immigrants are giving up on life in the U. between 20, double the number who did so a decade earlier.

and Mexican governments details the movement to and from Mexico, a nation accounting for nearly 60 percent of the illegal immigrants in the U. It was the biggest sustained drop in modern history, believed to be surpassed in scale only by losses in the Mexican-born U. “They threaten them, ‘if you don’t pay, what we’re going to do is we’re going to cut your head off.’ That’s the worst, the worst, the worst part,” Ballesteros said. He fears it could be six months if he’s caught again.

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