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Why Are Mexicans Leaving the U.S. in Droves?

Ken Lund/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

Workers at the Mexican Consulate in Austin are hustling and bustling. Some are handing out passports, others are helping people fill out the forms they need to move their furnishings from the United States to Mexico.


The narrative trending in the U.S. is that an influx of Mexicans are coming into the country. But there’s another side to the story, large numbers of Mexicans are leaving the U.S. to go back to Mexico.

Jeff Passel, demographer with the Pew Research Center in Washington, studies the movements of people into and out of the U.S. He says Mexicans have been leaving in droves for the last decade or so.

"It doesn't mean there aren't new unauthorized immigrants coming in from Mexico,” Passel says. “But there are more leaving than coming."

This isn’t just since the election. Over the two-year period between 2007 and 2009, about 1 million Mexicans left the U.S. permanently.

And many more have left since. News reports about schools in Mexico estimate there are about half a million children whose primary language had been English and are now attending classes in Mexico – in Spanish.

The trend of Mexicans leaving is not likely to stop anytime soon. At the Mexican consulate, I met people not planning to leave immediately but taking steps toward leaving in the future.

One of them was Humberto Moreno, who’s originally from Monterrey. He's been in the U.S. for decades.

"Initially I came here as a student,” Moreno says. “I came to the University of Texas to learn how to speak English. And I wanted to be a soldier. Blame the movies – I don't know – but I always wanted to be a soldier and I wanted to jump out of planes and, so, that's what I did."

Moreno is now retired from the U.S. Army. He owns a small ranch in Bastrop. But he, his wife and daughter are taking steps to move to Mexico. Instead of the American dream, they’re pursuing the Mexican dream.

"Mexico is up [and] coming and I see a better future – or possible future – for my daughter in Mexico,” Moreno says. “She wants to study medicine and being able to go to school in Mexico might be beneficial – cost wise. If in her life, she decides she wants to live in Mexico, I would be happy. It will be her choice. I'm just trying to give her a choice."

Moreno's wife is a teacher and right now she's working towards getting certified in Spanish. She hopes that will come in handy when the family finally transitions into their new country.

So many people like Moreno and his family have been leaving the U.S. that it’s resulted in a net-zero migration from Mexico. That means basically it’s come out even.

And if that’s surprising, it may surprise you even more to learn Latin Americans are not the largest group coming into the U.S. anymore – even though all the coverage about Central American immigrants may lead you to believe otherwise.

Jeff Passel says immigrants from Asia have outnumbered all other groups for the last eight years.

"We don't have data going back 150 years, but we do have data going back 30 or 40 years,” Passel says. “Over that period, we've always gotten more Latin-American immigrants than Asian immigrants but that has changed in recent years as well."

The interesting thing about data is that it may not give you a sexy headline, but it will reveal the truth.

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