Categorized | Mexican

300,000 fewer Mexicans in U.S. in 2017, largest drop in a decade


In January, Victoria Arce boarded a plane in Los Angeles bound for Mexico. She was born there  31 years ago but has lived in the United States for more than half of her life, a country she had learned to call home. Arce’s trip was just one example of a little-noted exodus of Mexicans, including some, like Arce, who have lived undocumented in the U.S. for years.

Though life without documentation always meant insecurity, Arce says she left the country because of the Trump administration’s heightened crackdown on immigration.

“You risk your life especially with Trump as president,” Arce said.

New figures released in September from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey show that there were 300,000 fewer Mexicans – both legal and undocumented – in the U.S. last year, compared with 2016. The last time the Census Bureau recorded a drop of this magnitude was in 2008 when analysts said many Mexicans returned to their home country because of the global economic recession.


American Community Survey
Mexicans living in the U.S. Change in one year
2008 11,412,668 -325,869
2009 11,478,413 65,745
2010 11,711,103 232,690
2011 11,672,619 -38,484
2012 11,563,374 -109,245
2013 11,584,977 21,603
2014 11,714,489 129,512
2015 11,643,298 -71,191
2016 11,573,680 -69,618
2017 11,269,913 -303,767

Source: American Community Survey

The Census Bureau’s numbers show raw population figures without offering explanations for why they change from year to year. In recent interviews, analysts said several factors could explain the large drop in the Mexican population. The main reason, they said, is the Trump administration’s hostility toward immigrants.

“Some of it is fear of deportation, for sure,” said Nicol Valdez, a Hispanic immigration scholar and a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University. “Especially if you are undocumented.”

“The political climate and anti-immigrant rhetoric took a toll on the people,” agreed Carlos Gerardo, consul for public affairs at the Mexican consulate in New York. “That is why some want to go back.”

While the Census Bureau numbers amount to a headcount of those in the U.S., a Mexican-government funded agency collects numbers that confirmed more Mexicans are returning home in recent years – though the number of returns is still well below the Mexican population drop in the U.S.

The group, called The Survey of Migration at Mexico’s Northern Border, has been conducting research on returns since 1994. Its survey shows that the number of Mexican immigrants who have voluntarily returned to Mexico has steadily risen since 2014, rising by 16 percent to 92,000 in 2017.

Dr. Jorge Castañeda, an associate professor at New York University, said a reason for the large disparity between the numbers of both agencies could be the reluctance of Mexicans in reporting their return to authorities. “Mexican numbers are not always reliable,” said Castañeda, who was also the former Foreign Secretary of Mexico. “No one likes to acknowledge he was deported.” Castañeda added that some, for various reasons, may have slipped back to Mexico without the agency’s knowledge.

Source: The Survey of Migration at Mexico’s Northern Border

For some experts, the Census Bureau numbers were unexpected despite the Trump administration’s often-harsh rhetoric about immigrants.

“We were kind of surprised, especially since the overall immigrant population has been increasing in the U.S.,” said Jao Zong, an associate policy analyst from the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank established in 2001. Nevertheless, “I do not think the Mexican population in the U.S. will climb back up,” said Zong. “I think it will either stabilize or continue to drop.”

Castañeda, for his part, believes the 2017 decline is temporary.

“There is no reason in Mexico to stop people from leaving,” he said. “The economy is not doing well, violence is worse than ever. All of the push factors are the same. Castañeda further noted that more people will leave Mexico in the coming years. “I find no explanation why anyone will go home voluntary.”

But for Arce, her reason is clear: It is not about returning to Mexico. It is more about leaving America.

“In the U.S., I never went to other states,” she said. “I always stayed in California.” Arce is the only one among her siblings without legal documentation. Her younger brother and her sister applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and are eligible to stay in the country legally for the time being.

Having crossed the border just a month shy of her 16th birthday made for precarious timing on her part, since applicants had to prove they were below 16 years old when they reached the U.S. “I got to the States in June,” Arce explained, but her school medical records could not corroborate this and she had no other written proof of when she arrived. Her birthday was in July.

While Arce’s lifelong dream is to be a fashion designer, basking in the spotlight surrounded by her creations, she has lived most of her American life on the sidelines. “I graduated with honors in Reseda Charter High School, and lots of colleges sent me invitations,” she said. “But in my mind, I knew I could not pay for it or go as someone undocumented. It kills you.”

After she graduated, Arce worked as a saleswoman for a string of small stores in The Santee Alley, a popular outdoor shopping center in Los Angeles, for several years – until she decided this was not the life she wanted.

As for Yovany Diaz, who nearly drowned in Rio Grande while making his difficult journey to cross the border when he was eight, it was an easy decision to leave the U.S. after 17 years.

Diaz said he was fed up with what he called the white supremacy in the U.S. “I became an activist and demanded rights – being able to drive and work as someone undocumented.”

He was part of a group of protesters called “No Papers, No Fear” who met with former President Barack Obama in 2012 to lobby against laws that oppress undocumented immigrants.

Today, the 25-year-old lives in rural San Luis Potosi, Mexico, where his life is a stark contrast from what he was used to. Today, he fetches water from a nearby creek to shower and gets by with spotty internet signal connection. Yet, Diaz said he likes waking up to a relatively more peaceful life compared to his days of activism in the U.S. He has also been reunited with his grandparents whom he has not seen since he left for America.

But the best part about Mexico, Diaz said, is the opportunity to pursue higher education – a longtime dream of his. “I do not regret my decision.”

Living undocumented in the U.S. has always held risks. The environment has grown more hostile since President Trump’s election, particularly when it comes to seeking jobs, said Eduardo Barrañón.

“Mexicans are living like slaves in the U.S.,” said Barrañón who moved to Illinois with his mother when he was 12. Upon graduating high school, Barrañón has since jumped from one fast food job to another, from McDonald’s to Taco Bell to Portillo’s Restaurant, an American fast food chain. “They abuse us with lower pay because we do not have documents,” he said.

He persevered to stay in the country because he wanted to support his 10-year old daughter and 4-year old son. But when his pursuit for a better future in America was clearly not panning out, Barrañón made the decision to return to Mexico in 2017, leaving his wife and children behind. “It was the first time we were separated,” he said. “The first few months were the hardest.”

According to the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank based in Washington DC, “Mexicans have lower incomes than the overall foreign- and native-born populations.” In fact, approximately 21 percent of Mexican immigrants were living in poverty in 2017, much higher than the overall average of 14 percent of all immigrant families.

Today, Barrañón works as a software engineer in Santander, a retail banking company in Mexico. “I am making good money,” he said. He learned how to program through HolaCode, a five-month software engineering boot camp pioneered by two Mexican entrepreneurs in 2016.

His wife visits him in Mexico every few months and while his children have not yet visited, he said he plans to stay in Mexico for now where he enjoys more financial and social freedom. “I do not want to live a life like I was trapped in a cage.”

As for Arce, it has been nearly a year since her big move. She and her partner, Diego, who also returned from the United States and now lives with her in Mexico, have acclimated to their new home. “I have set my mind that I will not be able to go back in 10 years,” she said. The only hard part, she explained, would be the uncertainty of when she will see her family in the U.S.

Other than that, she is content where she is. She currently attends Villa Luna Beauty School and hopes to pursue fashion design, her original dream, next. “I do not really regret coming here because I am able to move around without feeling scared.”



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