Global Independent Analytics
Joshua Tartakovsky
Joshua Tartakovsky

Location: USA

Specialization: Israel and the Middle East, US politics

Why Did Over One Million Mexicans Leave the US?

What may explain this negative trend of Mexicans choosing to leave the United States? After all, it does not fall within the realm of what one may expect.

A Pew Research Center study, reported by the New York Times, reveals that between 2009 and 2014, more than one million Mexicans left the United States for Mexico. Included among them are 100,000 children who were born in the United States and therefore are American citizens.  During the same time period, 870,000 Mexicans migrated from Mexico to the United States.

Some may blame Republican candidate Donald Trump, for his negative remarks about Mexican migration. That is a poor explanation. The period in study is between 2009 and 2014, one year before Trump even declared his candidacy.

One may explain this reverse trend by arguing that the migrants were deported, but deportations account for only 14% of the total that left.  (In this vein it should be noted that Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, the writer of the report, was cited in the article saying that an increase in harsh measures at the border ordered by US President Barack Obama probably resulted in deterring many Mexicans from crossing the border.  Indeed, it appears that while Obama had supposedly engaged in immigration reform with the goal of lowering the number of deportees from the US, he increased the harsh controls and security at the border, which placed migrants who crossed the border in danger. In addition, the drug wars in northern Mexico that claim the lives of about 40,000 people a year, may also play a role in deterring some from crossing the border).

Are the brutal and inhuman measures taken against immigrants in states such as Arizona effective in creating an atmosphere of fear that result in Mexicans relocating to Mexico?

If one earns more in the US, it would make sense that he or she would stay there despite an atmosphere of hate, simply due to necessity.  The hate factor alone does not explain the relocation of one million Mexicans.

But the Pew report says that due to the 2008 crisis and a decline in low-salary jobs, many Mexicans have not found employment in the United States.  But was the economy in Mexico any better?

Statistics by Focus Economics state that economic growth in Mexico went down from 5.1% in 2010 to 2.1% in 2014.  In contrast, economic growth has remained about the same in the US.  In 2010, the US GDP grew by 2.5% and after a decline stabilized again at 2.4% in 2014.

This means that the economy at large is growing in the US and declining in Mexico. It should be noted that Mexico is heavily dependent on US economic growth and also relies on remittances.

The answer to the riddle may be found in the percentage of unemployment. The unemployment rate in Mexico went down from 4.9% in 2010, to 3.8% in 2014. In the US, unemployment went down from 9.6% in 2010 to 6.2% in 2014.

That means that unemployment is larger in the US than it is in Mexico even though most workers probably earn more in the US than they do in Mexico.

According to an article by the Los Angeles Times on the same Pew study, many migrants from Mexico are struggling to find work in the US.

“I would not say that Mexico has more of a pull, but the United States isn't as attractive,” Ana Gonzalez-Barrera said.

Eleuterio Hernandez Hernandez, who crossed the border many times, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times article saying about the US that “there isn't much work because the economy there is still bad.”

But in the “still bad” economy, economic growth in the US remained largely at the same pace. However, economic recovery does not always result in significantly higher employment rates. Indeed, what may be taking place in the US is a “jobless recovery”, a process in which companies may grow but as they move to automation in order to recover their loses following a crisis, there is less of a need for manual labor, causing greater unemployment, poverty and insecurity.  Unemployment seemed to improve in the US, but according to the Pew study, many Mexicans cannot find low-paying jobs. That means that the graph of economic growth may not automatically correlate to growth in jobs and indeed can serve to provide a comforting illusion.  It is also possible that the room for lower-paid labor is reaching its limit due to the high inflow of migrants.  

In October 2015, official unemployment stood at 5%, the lowest percentage since 2008, according to Trading Economics. But usually such data does not consider the underemployed or those who have been unemployed for a while. The data of undocumented workers is probably not inserted into official statistics discussing GDP.  This means that unemployment among the undocumented is probably much higher.  Nigel Duara and Cindy Carcamo wrote for the Los Angeles Times that  “though the U.S. economy continues to rebound, that hasn't always translated to into low-skilled jobs for border crossers.” As one interviewee said “there is no work for us immigrants.”

In the Pew study, only 6% said that they found employment in Mexico, but 61% said that they came to Mexico to unite with their families . What does this tell us?

Since finding a job in the US does not appear to be substantially better than in Mexico, and since in the US things are not going well for manual laborers, many Mexicans prefer to live in Mexico where they probably can enjoy closer communal and familial ties. The warmth of a family relationship may be more attractive than the pay that comes with hardships in a new country where salaries are low and where migrants are trapped in environments of hate based on ethnicity, as obsessive discrimination in Arizona exposed. Living in a country such as the US where individualism is dominant, communities are in crisis and low-paying jobs are harder to find, may not be worth it any more.  Most Mexican respondents said they came back to reunite with their families or create their own. It appears that for many, family unity and being in a familiar culture are factors that override staying in the US. The economy is not that great in either country, so many Mexicans are going back to Mexico where at least they can enjoy closer family ties. 

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