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
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"There is no public policy in Mexico to address the massive return of migrants or the reinsertion of them back into their communities," says Mr. Zamora.Skip to next paragraph
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Migrants who return with savings can bring back skills and become agents of change, says Carla Pederzini, a demographer at the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City. But if they're deported or return because they are jobless, she adds, they're vulnerable. "It's very hard for them to start a new life."
While about two-thirds of returning migrants – the majority between ages 18 and 34 – find work within three months of returning, at least a third work in the informal sector. Most do not return with sufficient funds to become employers or small-business owners, according to research on the characteristics of returning migrants by Foundation BBVA Bancomer in Mexico. And most do not end up using the skills they acquired during their time in the US.
In the wake of the global financial crisis, Mexican states began offering support to migrants, from unemployment insurance for those who lost their American jobs to funds to help migrants create microenterprises.
Guanajuato set up a fund in 2009 that has helped 180 families, says Luis Vargas Gutierrez, the undersecretary for social development in Guanajuato State. "After the crisis, we thought lots of migrants were going to return home." So far, he says, the state hasn't seen the influx that was anticipated. He says that while Guanajuato residents face high rates of deportation – more than 30,000 were repatriated from the US in 2011 – many are staying at the border.
But the challenge of returning could be bigger than it appears, says the demographer Escobar. "[Returning migrants] are being absorbed one by one. It doesn't look like a major movement," he says.
While per capita income has grown by 40 percent in two decades, Mexico saw a bump in poverty levels between 2008 and 2010, and Escobar attributes that, in part, to Mexican families having to absorb returning migrants.
Reverse migration benefits families
Despite the challenges of the new migration patterns, the biggest beneficiary, says Escobar, will be the Mexican family.
"In high emigration communities, where children had traditionally been socialized to leave at any early age, the notion that children should be educated to make it in Mexico places greater emphasis on education, on investing in one's properties and assets in Mexico, and in general in the kind of values that are consistent with a commitment to the future of these communities," he says.Indeed, for Pedro and Silvia, it was their family that drove their decision to move home.
"We never saw the children," says Silvia. "They grow up so fast; soon they will be independent and leave."
But for them, and for thousands of other migrants, this isn't a choice between good and bad or right and wrong. It's a crushingly hard cost analysis. Pedro says some days their children's teacher doesn't show up to class, and other parents don't demand higher standards as they would in the US. It makes him second-guess his decision: "I worry I am impeding their growth."
On a recent Saturday morning the kids did extra homework assigned by their parents at the dinner table. They wrote letters in English to maintain their bilingual skills. Their 9-year-old wrote to her best friend back in the US: "We have animals. Mexico is so beautiful, but it is not like over there."
• Lourdes Medrano contributed to this article from Phoenix.