The Associated Press reports that nearly 1 million Mexican migrants living in the U.S. are expected to head home for the holidays, but relatively few are returning loaded down with gifts and cash this year. This could have a profound effect on the upcoming immigration debate, but of course this situation will reverse when the U.S. economy improves. Here are excerpts from the story:

Many are simply moving back after losing their jobs in the U.S. economic crisis, a disappointing turn for an annual journey that has become a cherished tradition in towns and villages across Mexico.

Wearing an Old Navy sweat shirt, Enrique Gonzalez, 38, said all he was bringing back to Saucillo in northern Chihuahua state was his deported uncle’s furniture.

“There are no gifts, thanks to the recession,” said the Phoenix, Arizona, hotel employee as he waited for a permit for his truck and trailer at a Mexican Customs office in Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.

Mexican Immigration Commissioner Cecilia Romero expects the usual number of Mexicans to return between Thanksgiving and Christmas, despite a spike in drug violence along the border, but says “some who are coming back are deciding to stay in Mexico for awhile.”

Greater border security, the U.S. crackdown on its undocumented population and the economic downturn have discouraged would-be migrants from heading north, legally and illegally. The Mexican government says emigration has dropped 42 percent over the last two years.

Many Mexicans already in the U.S. also are giving up on the American dream. Even before the economic crisis, in first-quarter 2008, Hispanic unemployment was at 6.5 percent, well above the 4.7 percent rate for all non-Hispanics. Another key indicator is that money migrants send home — Mexico’s second-largest source of foreign income — has fallen this year for the first time since record-keeping began 12 years ago.