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One recession-driven social trend is attracting the attention of church growth experts: Immigration from Mexico and the rest of Latin America—once thought to be nearly bottomless—has dried up to a trickle.

A Pew Hispanic Center analysis of Mexican government data shows the number of Mexicans leaving their country for the United States each year has declined from more than one million in 2006 to 404,000 in 2010—a 60 percent reduction. U.S. Border Patrol arrests in the Southwest have fallen from a peak of 1.6 million in 2000 to about 448,000 in 2010.

Much of the decline comes as U.S. unemployment remains stubbornly high. South of the border, Mexican officials say improved social services have made staying home more attractive.

Couple that with increasingly strict immigration policies in the United States, and Spanish-speaking churches in some states are shutting their doors.

"We are definitely seeing a definitive, measurable decrease in the number of first-generation people," said Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

It's a noteworthy change for churches that have eyed the Hispanic population for years as the greatest source of growth. Armed with data projecting that by 2050, whites will become a minority and Hispanics will jump from 14 percent of the U.S. population to nearly 30 percent, churches have launched English as a Second Language classes and Spanish-language services for immigrants.

So is the slowdown cause to toss aside their bilingual Bibles and cancel the Spanish service?

Not so fast, experts say.

The U.S. Hispanic population is still booming, although births are now the driving force. Pew research shows that as the Mexican-American population grew by ...

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January 2012

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