Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Cover Story

Home again in Mexico: Illegal immigration hits net zero

Tiny Tamaula is the new face of rural Mexico: Villagers are home again as the illegal immigration boom drops to net zero

(Page 3 of 5)

As their quality of life deteriorated, Pedro started hearing about changes in Tamaula: There was electricity, a high school, access to water. Though his children were thriving, he figured they were still young enough to uproot willingly. He wanted them to connect with their roots and see how hard life is in Mexico. They could later decide if they wanted to return to the US as legal citizens.

Skip to next paragraph

With their savings, the couple moved into a tidy, stone-walled home they'd been slowly constructing in Tamaula over the years. They knew they'd give up the security of paychecks, but they could grow their own food, raise goats for milk and cheese, and forgo rent and expensive energy bills.

When the family crossed the border in a van from Brownsville, Texas, in June, near where Pedro sneaked across the Rio Grande illegally in 1992 at night, it was the first time the children had ever stepped on Mexican soil.

It's been up and down, says Pedro: "I ask myself all the time if this was the right decision."

'American dream' no longer the standard

Guanajuato – an agricultural state in Central Mexico – has been a typical emigration state and in the past five years has become the biggest source of Mexican migrants to the US. As such, it also has one of the highest rates of return, census figures show.

Of Tamaula's 100 men, about 10 have returned since 2007 – some willingly, like Pedro, and others because they lost jobs or didn't get guest-worker visas and are no longer willing to go north illegally.

Not a single person interviewed in Tamaula said he or she would go illegally today. One of them is Jorge Laguna, a cousin of Pedro's in Tamaula, a town made up of three extended families. He'd traveled annually to the US since 2005 as a temporary guest worker to toil as a gardener in Washington State, but this year he wasn't asked back.

In the past he might have tried his luck illegally – as he did when he was 15, spending five consecutive years in Georgia before returning home to visit his family. What was there to lose? If he got caught crossing, he could turn around and try again. If he couldn't find a job, he could come home or bide his time until the market rebounded. Now, at 28, he says he's not willing to risk his life: Migrants – including two from a nearby village – have gone missing. Their suitcases showed up at bus stations in northern Mexico.

"The situation would have to be really dire for me to try to go illegally today," Jorge says. Staying home is much easier, he concedes, than when his father was raising a family. At that time, all travel here was by foot or horseback. Until 2005, when the town got electricity, children did their homework by candlelight. And back then water was the central concern of daily life: With one well up the mountainside, a half-hour by donkey, families could rarely return with enough for drinking, bathing, feeding the animals, and washing clothes and dishes.

Suddenly plugged in to modern conveniences, the community has been able to turn its attention beyond subsistence to bettering opportunities. The new high school was built three years ago. (Before, most usually quit school after junior high.)

As a strategy to keep Mexicans home, the Community Foundation of the Bajio focuses on local development in 10 communities in Guanajuato, including Tamaula. The nongovernmental organization is busy creating employment opportunities for residents to produce and sell honey – as Mr. Zambrano is trying to do – baked goods, and goat cheese.


Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer


Editors' picks

Doing Good


What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!