Immigration is a dying issue

Tim Kane is the JP Conte Fellow in Immigration Studies at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His most recent book is "Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America" (Simon and Schuster), co-authored with Glenn Hubbard. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)A joke about the politics of immigration is that things are going nowhere, faster than ever. Even though the immigration debate hasn't changed in years, someone should tell Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton that the immigration reality has. Demographics have shifted in Mexico and in Central America because women are having fewer babies.

In fact, a decadeslong wave of Mexican immigration to the United States simply stopped when the Great Recession started in 2007. It won't be coming back, regardless of who becomes president or what policies the federal government enacts.


The debate during the past three, maybe four, presidential elections focused on what to do about 11 million undocumented immigrants. But notice that George W. Bush, John Kerry, Barack Obama, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and now Trump and Clinton have been talking about the exact same number? It's been oddly steady for eight years, according to a new analysis from the Pew Research Center. The growth of illegal immigrants grew 10% annually from 1990 to 2007, and has been zero since. Mexican immigration has actually been negative.

The new immigration reality was easy to miss last summer, when two other migrant waves surprised the West. In Europe, refugees from Syria's civil war crowded onto boats headed for the beaches of Greece. And for the past three years, an average 100,000 refugees from Central America have been seeking asylum at the southern US border. Were those images, endlessly repeated on cable television, wrong? Were they falsifying a reality that wasn't?