In this Sept. 28, 2010 photo, a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent drives along the international border fence near Nogales, Ariz. The Supreme Court agreed Monday, Dec. 12, 2011 to rule on Arizona's controversial law targeting illegal immigrants. The justices said they will review a federal appeals court ruling that blocked several tough provisions in the Arizona law. One of those requires that police, while enforcing other laws, question a person's immigration status if officers suspect he is in the country illegally. (AP Photo/Matt York)National Journal

A slight bump in the flow of undocumented Mexican immigrants during the first half of 2012 appears to signal a rebound of some U.S. sectors that rely on low-skilled workers, according to a two-nation study.

The population of illegal immigrants has reached prerecession levels (11.7 million). That figure led the study's authors to argue that laws such Arizona's SB1070 that aim to expel undocumented immigrants by making it impossible for them to live and work in the U.S. had little impact.

In a way, the study reveals a simple fact: People will move where there is work. The latest federal jobs report shows that of the 114,000 jobs added in September, most were in health, transportation, and warehousing, sectors that employ minorities, including low-skilled legal and unauthorized immigrants.

Even a small increase in the need for Mexican labor "would prompt a positive response in the migration flows despite intensified enforcement efforts by the federal government, several states, and some local governments," according to the study.

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Despite three years of unemployment levels at 8 percent or higher, "the size of the Mexican migrant population has not shrunken." Similarly, record levels of federal deportations and state immigration laws have not curbed undocumented immigration, the study found.

The data are in direct contrast to an April Pew Hispanic Center study that revealed that net migration from Mexico to the U.S. had fallen to zero or had even reversed.

"Mexican Migration Monitor" is a joint publication of the University of Southern California's Tomás Rivera Policy Institute in Los Angeles and El Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana, Mexico. The study analyzed data from various sources, including unpublished data from the Border Survey of Mexican Migrants.

Key highlights of the report:

  • While the construction industry has continued to shed jobs through 2012, opportunities have been increasing in the leisure and hospitality arenas.
  • Mexican migrants still come to the U.S. primarily to work as low-skilled laborers.
  • Immigrants deported from the interior of the country, such as those caught during workplace immigration raids, are likely to be have resided in the U.S. longer, often are heads of households, and are age 35 or older. People apprehended closer to the border often are younger and have been in the U.S. for a shorter length of time.

This article is part of our Next America: Communities project, which is supported by a grant from Emerson Collective.

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