They laughed when Mitt Romney suggested that the solution to illegal immigration was "self-deportation." Morally obtuse as the Romney approach might be, it may be working.
According to an analysis of U.S. and Mexican census data conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, roughly 6.1 million unauthorized Mexican immigrants were living in the United States last year, down from a peak of nearly 7 million in 2007. According to the Associated Press, "It was the biggest sustained drop in modern history, believed to be surpassed in scale only by losses in the Mexican-born U.S. population during the Great Depression."
A weak economy, rather than any jawboning from Romney, probably account for the trend. Even so, significant repatriation of illegal immigrants undermines somewhat the fatalism of many arguments for comprehensive reform, including legalization and/or a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. (The trend doesn't threaten the case for the Dream Act because teenagers who have spent most of their lives here are unlikely to self-deport.)
On the other hand, a perception that immigrants are leaving -- and that would-be immigrants are staying put -- could make it easier to advocate for legalization of those who stay. Once the finger is removed from the panic button, progress toward comprehensive reform might be possible.