Economic Self-Deportation: Mexicans Leaving the U.S., No Longer Just Because of La Migra

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor

[Please read an update on this story here.]
Mexico is bracing for the consequences of the U.S. economic crisis. Among these is an increase in Mexican immigrants going back to their home country — chased away by the lack of jobs north of the U.S.-Mexico border, the general economic downturn, as well as tougher enforcement of immigration laws.

Antonio García Conejo, an official from the Mexican state of Michoacán, is one of those pointing to a dramatic increase in Mexicans leaving the U.S. and returning home.

The return of Mexicans has already started, but many more arrivals are expected at the end of the year and in 2009.

Conejo was quoted by the Mexican newspaper El Universal. His state has been a major beneficiary of remittances, money sent home by expatriates living and working in the United States. The level of remittances to Mexico has been falling since last year, initially due to the slowing U.S. housing market.

In another story published Wednesday, El Universal said that 1,400 Mexicans are crossing the border back into Tamaulipas state from Texas every week — double the normal amount, according to a state legislator. The border city of Nuevo Laredo has decided to charter buses to help those people reach their home communities in states to the south to prevent an increase in local unemployment and vagrancy, the official said.

The wave of immigrants returning to an already struggling Mexican economy could be massive. A Milenio newspaper columnist citing an official report from the Puebla state government says about two million Mexicans are expected to go back next year. Deborah Bonello, a reporter blogging for the Los Angeles Times from Mexico City, reports a much lower estimate by Cruz Lopez, head of Mexico’s National Confederation of Farm Workers:

Mexico should prepare itself for both the forced and voluntary return of more than 350,000 of its people currently living in the United States due to the financial crisis north of the border…

In any case, states like Guanajuato and Puebla and municipalities like the border city of Reynosa have announced contingency plans to deal with the influx of returning migrants.

The trend is being noticed on both sides of the border. New York Daily News columnist Albor Ruiz learned the news from Mexican activists in Manhattan. He reported a remark by Joel Magallán, executive director of New York community organization Asociación Tepeyac: “Due to the state of the economy in the U.S., thousands of Mexican immigrants are going home,” Magallán said.

Ruiz wrote:

Remember Operation Scheduled Departure, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s self-deportation program put in place two months ago that was scrapped for lack of takers?

Well, where the feds failed, the economic crisis is succeeding: Self-deportation is becoming a reality.

Michael O’boyle, a Reuters reporter in Mexico, found a family in Acatzingo, southwest of Mexico City, who returned home from Delaware when the economic slowdown and the toughening of immigration enforcement made their situation untenable. One of the family members told O’boyle, “It’s better to be poor back in Mexico than to be a hamster in its cage up there.”

A massive return of Mexicans not only means that more people in Mexico will be looking for jobs: it’s also expected to contribute to the decline in the amount of money being pumped into the Mexican economy through remittances. After oil exports, remittances have, in recent years, been the second-largest source of foreign exchange for the country. (They are even more important for some of the smaller Central American countries.)

El Universal reported last week that, according to Banco de México, August was the slowest month this year for remittances entering the country: Mexicans sent their families $268 million less than in August 2007, a 12 percent year-to-year loss.

Through the first seven months of this year, the loss has amounted to $526 million, the bank said.

Inter Press Service’s Diego Cevallos adds that Mexico and the U.S. have an average daily trade volume of $1-billion, which shows the heavy dependence of the southern neighbor on the American economy’s well-being.

A mass exodus could also have social and psychological effects. Jeremy Schwarts, of the Cox News Service, reported that those who are likely to suffer most are kids who grew up in the U.S., but who move to a country they don’t know.

Although this situation may seem unprecedented, Dianne Solís of The Dallas Morning News notes that this already happened, back in 1930 when “the stock market tanked, unemployment rose and cries grew forceful against Mexican immigrants … In the decade that followed, an estimated one million people went to Mexico in a wave of deportations and voluntary repatriations.

Solís adds that already in the last three years “more than 500,000 Mexicans have been repatriated from the U.S. If their U.S.-citizen children joined them, that total is much higher.”

If the American economy continues to falter, the scope of this 21st century exodus could reach historic proportions.

AboutDiego Graglia
Diego Graglia is a bilingual multimedia journalist who has worked at major media outlets in the U.S. and Latin America. He is currently the editor-in-chief at Expansion, Meixco’s leading business magazine.