It is a common misperception that immigration flows come from southern poor countries to rich industrialized nations in the Northern Hemisphere. But immigration patterns are more complex than the outdated notion of a man leaving his family and heading north to seek work.

Covering Migration in the Americas was the topic of this year’s Austin Forum, an annual event, hosted by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, where Latin American journalists gather at The University of Texas to discuss the challenges of covering current issues.  At that conference, I learned immigration seems to be more like a circle than a straight line, since most countries are both senders and receivers of people.

According to U.S. Census data, the United States is a country of over 38 million immigrants. While America attracts many immigrants, only 2.4 million Americans venture to live overseas, according to World Bank data. Half a million U.S. citizens live in Mexico, the most of any destination abroad, while Mexicans are the largest foreign-born population in the United States.

Like migration between Mexico and the U.S, immigration flows occur mostly within the same region. Paraguayans, Bolivians and Peruvians migrate to Argentina. Argentines seek jobs in Chile or Brazil. Nicaraguans go to Costa Rica and Salvadorans to Belize. According to a recent article from The Economist, the same migration happens across continents; 7.5 million people leave Africa for Europe, while more than 13 million cross borders within Africa.

Regardless of where immigrants move, they face discrimination in their adoptive countries. Argentine fans use “Bolivian” as an offensive word for unskilled soccer players, Chilean press remains silent about exploitation and wage theft of low skilled workers from Paraguay and many Dominican women are stereotyped as hookers in Spain.

Immigration is not an increasing trend worldwide. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Developmentstated that migration into its member countries decreased 7 percent in 2009 after the last global recession.  Immigrants responded to the decreased employment growth and economic demand by not seeking jobs in the receiving country.

Immigration is also a women’s issue. According to the U.S. Census, women make up more than half of immigrants to the United States. Around the world, women migrate for many different reasons. Women find jobs overseas that reflect gender stereotypes such as childcare, nursing, teaching or working as domestic employees.  Single mothers immigrate to other countries to support their children back home.  Many women marry foreigners; according to the Institute of Mexicans Abroad, most Mexicans living in Europe are wives of Spaniards. Unfortunately, many female immigrants are deceived with promising jobs abroad that end in sexual slavery.

Media, politicians and nationalist groups portray immigrants in the receiving country as law breakers and a burden for social services. Government officials approach immigration issues from a security perspective. I believe that immigration should be a humanitarian topic, since human trafficking is one of the most profitable industries.

Protecting immigrants’ rights is about preserving wages for native workers and national living standards, and while immigrants demand social services, they also bring their desire to work and prosper in their adoptive land.