By Laura Garcia
More Mexican immigrants are leaving the United States while less are choosing to come into the country, according to a report published by the Pew Research Center.
“This trend started with the Great Recession,” said Giovanni Peri, an associate professor of economics at UC Davis.
When the housing and stock markets crashed, construction jobs fell by the wayside, leaving a sector of immigrants with little work, Peri said. That was the start of a trend that persists today.
“Going back to their country was a better opportunity,” he added.
This reverse wave of migration marks the first time for the U.S.’s biggest source of immigrant workers. The declining trend in migration started five years ago, Pew reports.
Retirement, stricter enforcement of employee verification services and stepped-up deportation are several factors pushing Mexicans back home, immigrant-rights advocates said.
“When they reach retirement age, they leave for Mexico because they have difficulties with retirement here,” said Angelina Corona, executive director at Hermandad Mexicana.
“Many people are also being deported and they are not coming back. Another reason for them leaving is what we have seen in recent years — a bigger enforcement with E-verify. That is probably another factor that is influencing people leaving, if they can’t find jobs here why would they stay.”
It’s also more expensive and dangerous to cross, with stricter border enforcement forcing migrants to cross more perilous routes. Because of this, coyotes are charging higher fees to help migrants cross over.
“They don’t want to come in the first place. They come here because of necessity,“ said Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels. Morones and his group leave water and other essentials in areas of the desert where migrants are known to cross.
Losing Mexicans from the labor force could have a negative effect on the economy, Peri warns.
“In some sectors, particularly in some states, certainly California and Texas are heavily relying on immigrant labor force. In general this is likely to reduce labor force for some important sectors and in consequence they will shrink,’’ Peri said.
As the Mexican economy grows, immigrants find little reason to risk their lives to work menial jobs and be subjected to second-class status, Morones said.
“More people are going [home] especially with the increase of racism, like Donald Trump,” Morones said.
The Pew study concludes that the numbers could go back up once the U.S. economy improves.
“I think that from a political point of view the economic argument for reducing or even pushing immigrants away is suicidal,” Peri said.
Mexicans are the largest immigrant group in the U.S. In Santa Ana, 47 percent of the population is foreign-born and in California 38 percent of the population identify as Mexican, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
“Mexico has done some progress so I think potentially when the Mexican economy starts growing a bit, the returning immigrants will have a very good effect. They will have experience,” Peri said.