The number of Mexican emigrants who opted to return to their homeland from the United States increased sharply over the past five years to almost 1 million, according to census data.

The deputy secretary of Population, Migration and Religious Affairs, Rene Zenteno Quintero, told a press conference that that figure was 2.7 times higher than the amount registered in Mexico's 2000 census.

The exodus of Mexicans to the United States has likewise been reduced, "seen in a net zero balance between emigrants and immigrants who return to Mexico, meaning we're experiencing a historic moment," he said.

The official also referred to a recent National Occupation and Employment Survey that shows a 70 percent decline in the rate of emigration over the past four years.

He attributed that situation to a variety of factors, including a U.S. recession in 2008-2009 and reduced expectations for an economic recovery in that country.

That situation has been compounded by a "hostile environment toward illegal immigrants, reflected in the more than 1 million deportees during President (Barack) Obama's administration and the proliferation of negative local environments in terms of political discourse, public opinion and legal overhauls," he said.

Douglas Massey, a sociologist and immigration specialist who also spoke at the press conference, said he is pessimistic about the possibility of immigrant-friendly legislation being approved in the United States in the near future.

Activists who work with emigrant communities also are discouraged by Obama's immigration policies, Massey said, noting that despite promising during the 2008 presidential campaign to enact comprehensive immigration reform "he's done almost nothing" so far.

The border has become more militarized under Obama's watch with more resources and more agents deployed, according to Massey, president of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. He said deportations also have accelerated to levels not seen since the 1930s.

The expert added that he is hopeful the next presidential election will be the catalyst for some type of immigration reform that benefits the millions of - mostly Mexican - undocumented migrants in the United States.

Remittances from expats in the United States are Mexico's No. 2 source of revenue after oil exports.

Another topic addressed at the press conference was the northward migration of Central Americans, a phenomenon also affected by the United States' economic woes and especially a drop in the demand for labor.

"This is evident by the number of apprehensions along the border and National Migration Institute statistics, which indicate that in 2005 close to 450,000 Central Americans traveled through Mexico en route to the United States while in 2010 that number fell to 148,000," Zenteno Quintero said.

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