Donald Trump likes to congratulate himself for sparking a discussion in the GOP primary about immigration. Of course, Republicans had taken up that challenge long before he got involved when they blocked any attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the House. But what The Donald did with his “deport ’em all” approach to the 11 million undocumented workers in this country was to expose the way Republicans were trying to avoid that question and focus simply on “securing the border” with Mexico.

What’s interesting about all of that is that the entire discussion was rooted in a problem that existed back in the 1990’s rather than today. The latest report from the Pew Research Center on the topic demonstrates that.

More Mexican immigrants have returned to Mexico from the U.S. than have migrated here since the end of the Great Recession, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of newly available government data from both countries. The same data sources also show the overall flow of Mexican immigrants between the two countries is at its smallest since the 1990s, mostly due to a drop in the number of Mexican immigrants coming to the U.S.

In other words, net migration from Mexico to the U.S. is now below zero. From 1995 to 2000, that number was plus 2,270,000 and from 2009 to 2014 its was minus 140,000.

In naming the reasons for this dramatic change, Pew suggests that initially it was related to the Great Recession and the lack of available work in the U.S. There is also the fact that the United States has increased the number of people who are deported when they initially criss the border. But by far, this is what is having the biggest impact.

A majority of the 1 million who left the U.S. for Mexico between 2009 and 2014 left of their own accord, according to the Mexican government’s ENADID survey data. The Mexican survey also showed that six in ten (61%) return migrants – those who reported they had been living in the U.S. five years earlier but as of 2014 were back in Mexico – cited family reunification as the main reason for their return. By comparison, 14% of Mexico’s return migrants said the reason for their return was deportation from the U.S.

Many people also credit this change to the fact that Mexico is beginning to develop a more solid middle class.

Education. More sophisticated work. Higher pay. This is the development formula Mexico has been seeking for decades. But after the free-market wave of the 1990s failed to produce much more than low-skilled factory work, Mexico is finally attracting the higher-end industries that experts say could lead to lasting prosperity. Here, in a mostly poor state long known as one of the country’s main sources of illegal immigrants to the United States, a new Mexico has begun to emerge.

Another Pew Research report pointed to the reason that immigration to the United States has shifted away from Mexico and towards Central America.

As a whole, Latin America enjoyed solid economic growth in the first decade of this century, with a fall in poverty, a decrease in income inequality and a rise of its middle class. But in many respects, it was a tale of two Americas, with South America and Mexico seeing more of these gains than Central America and the Caribbean.

To the extent that we are willing to get beyond the fear-mongering about immigrants, this is the kind of information that demonstrates a rational approach to actually solving the problem. Newsflash: immigrants would prefer to stay in their home country when given the chance of security – both physically and economically. A sane approach would mean engaging in the work to ensure that is a possibility.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.