Why Immigrants Boomerang to Mexico

Family and nostalgia — not joblessness or health — are two top reasons more Mexicans are leaving the U.S., a report shows.

TIJUANA, MEXICO - OCTOBER 02: Traffic and pedestrians wait to cross the border into the United States from Mexico on October 2, 2013 in Tijuana, Mexico. Despite the U.S. federal shutdown, most U.S. border agents have been categorized as essential personnel and continue working.
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Ted Hesson, Fusion
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Ted Hesson, Fusion
Jan. 17, 2014, 3:25 a.m.

Mex­ic­an im­mig­rants are re­turn­ing home in sig­ni­fic­ant num­bers but it’s not mainly due to the tep­id U.S. eco­nomy, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey re­leased Tues­day.

Re­turn­ing mi­grants said fam­ily and nos­tal­gia drew them back to Mex­ico, trump­ing job­less­ness, health and oth­er con­cerns.

A his­tor­ic wave of im­mig­ra­tion from Mex­ico has dried up in re­cent years. A 2012 re­port by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter found that net mi­gra­tion to the U.S. from Mex­ico had reached net zero and was pos­sibly mov­ing in re­verse.

There are sev­er­al reas­ons for the shift, with the strug­gling U.S. eco­nomy and a plum­met­ing birth rate in Mex­ico at the top of the list.

“Things are chan­ging,” said Eduardo Med­ina Mora, the Mex­ic­an am­bas­sad­or to the U.S., be­fore the re­lease of the data at the Wilson Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton. “As num­bers show, Mex­ico will not be a ma­jor source of im­mig­rants to the U.S. in the fu­ture.”

The new data came from the bin­a­tion­al non-profit Mex­ic­ans and Amer­ic­ans Think­ing To­geth­er, which sur­veyed 600 mi­grants who had left the U.S. and moved to the Mex­ic­an state of Jalisco. The state has the highest volume of re­turn mi­grants, ac­cord­ing to re­search­ers.

Here are some of the ma­jor find­ings from the MATT study:

1. Im­mig­rants still come for jobs. While a strong ma­jor­ity cited fam­ily and nos­tal­gia as a reas­on to re­turn home to Mex­ico, the im­petus for trav­el­ing to the U.S. in the first place was largely eco­nom­ic. Most mi­grants placed jobs and salary as their main reas­ons for head­ing north.

2. Re­cord de­port­a­tions aren’t chan­ging minds. One find­ing ques­tions the idea that harsh im­mig­ra­tion policies will drive un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants back to their home coun­tries. Al­though 77 per­cent of the re­spond­ents said they entered the coun­try as un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants, only a small per­cent­age — 4.3 per­cent — said they re­turned to Mex­ico be­cause of fear of de­port­a­tion. And des­pite soar­ing levels of de­port­a­tions un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, only one-in-ten re­spond­ents said they left the U.S. be­cause they were de­por­ted. Roughly 90 per­cent chose to re­turn home.

3. Most mi­grants nev­er in­ten­ded to stay in the U.S. One ex­plan­a­tion for the high levels of mi­grants re­turn­ing to Mex­ico is that they nev­er in­ten­ded to stay in the U.S. in the first place. Only 16 per­cent of those sur­veyed said they planned to stay in the states per­man­ently. Aracely Gar­cia-Grana­dos, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of MATT, sug­ges­ted that mi­grants might have gone home even soon­er if not for the el­ev­ated levels of bor­der en­force­ment since the ter­ror­ist at­tack on Sept. 11. “The mo­ment the bor­der was closed…it was harder for them to go back to Mex­ico and come back,” she said. “So we as­sumed that one of the en­vir­on­ment­al factors was that if it was harder, and they had a good job here, they de­cided that it would be best for them to stay here.”

4. Fam­il­ies are be­ing split apart. While many mi­grants re­turned to Mex­ico be­cause of fam­ily, they also left fam­ily be­hind in the U.S. More than half of those sur­vey — 54 per­cent — said they had fam­ily in the states. The policy im­plic­a­tion of this trend is pretty clear: Mex­ic­an-Amer­ic­ans make up the biggest per­cent­age of im­mig­rants in the U.S., and if more mi­grants are re­turn­ing home, fam­il­ies will even­tu­ally want to have easi­er ac­cess to visas that will al­low them to be to­geth­er.

5. Re­turn­ing mi­grants like the United States. A whop­ping 88 per­cent said that their ex­per­i­ence in the U.S. was pos­it­ive. And even with the high per­cent­age of re­spond­ents who were un­doc­u­mented, they had a pos­it­ive view of law en­force­ment and said they didn’t blame the U.S. for their leg­al status.

This art­icle is pub­lished with per­mis­sion from Fu­sion, a TV and di­git­al net­work that cham­pi­ons a smart, di­verse and in­clus­ive Amer­ica. Fu­sion is a part­ner of Na­tion­al Journ­al and The Next Amer­ica. Fol­low the au­thor on Twit­ter: @ted­hesson

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