A major shift in unauthorized immigration into the United States has just reached a historic benchmark.
For the first time on record, more non-Mexicans are being apprehended along U.S. borders than Mexican nationals, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.
Since the turn of the century, what was a flood of incoming undocumented Mexican immigrants has slowed dramatically — from a three-decade peak of 1.6 million in fiscal year 2000, to 809,000 in 2007 and 229,000 in the fiscal year that ended Oct. 31.
But undocumented, non-Mexican immigrant apprehensions numbered 257,000 — a total led by a surge of refugees fleeing Central America, including 52,000 unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Binational scholars have pointed out that Mexico's birthrate has been in decline and its demographics changing to the point where the cross-border social and economic dynamics of years past don't carry the same push and pull.
And the results can be seen by those who patrol the borders with boots on the ground.
"If you look at it, it's economics,” said Gabe Pacheco, a spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council’s union Local 1613.
In an interview Monday, Pacheco noted a Pew report finding that unauthorized Mexican immigrant adults are staying in the U.S. for a median of 13 years, versus eight years a decade earlier.
“People don't want to give what it takes to come across the border,” Pacheco told NBC 7. “(They’re) looking at three to ten thousand dollars to come across, to be smuggled over by organizations."
Non-Mexicans can't be returned to their home countries as easily as Mexicans can — and not to Mexico, period.
"The situation in Mexico has gotten better; there's more security at the border,” said Border Angels founder Enrique Morones. “ People don't want have to come and risk their lives dying crossing the desert … Today we need to have humane policies so that there can be, for the first time, a line for these people that are risking their lives in the desert to get into."
But former U.S. Attorney Peter Nunez cautions that Mexico remains an inviting gateway to the U.S. for unauthorized immigrants of all nationalities: "We are being gamed by poor people around the world who know exactly what I've been saying — this isn't a secret to anybody — get to Mexico, get yourself to the border, and you're home free."
Nunez cited a 90 percent no-show rate for immigrants given hearing dates for immigration proceedings.
“For the next two years at least, we’re going to be at the mercy of every person who wants to come here illegally,” he said. “Wherever they are in the world, we're powerless to stop them."
According to the Pew analysis of 60 years of Border Patrol statistics, it's been 45 years since the agency apprehended as few undocumented Mexican immigrants as it just has.
And back then, they represented 20 times the number of non-Mexican apprehensions.
The report also found that undocumented Asian immigrant totals are catching up with those for Central Americans.