Why Immigrants Boomerang to Mexico

Family and nostalgia — not joblessness or health — are two top reasons more Mexicans are leaving the U.S., a report shows.

TIJUANA, MEXICO - OCTOBER 02: Traffic and pedestrians wait to cross the border into the United States from Mexico on October 2, 2013 in Tijuana, Mexico. Despite the U.S. federal shutdown, most U.S. border agents have been categorized as essential personnel and continue working. (National Journal)

Mexican immigrants are returning home in significant numbers but it's not mainly due to the tepid U.S. economy, according to a survey released Tuesday.

Returning migrants said family and nostalgia drew them back to Mexico, trumping joblessness, health and other concerns.

A historic wave of immigration from Mexico has dried up in recent years. A 2012 report by the Pew Research Center found that net migration to the U.S. from Mexico had reached net zero and was possibly moving in reverse.

There are several reasons for the shift, with the struggling U.S. economy and a plummeting birth rate in Mexico at the top of the list.

"Things are changing," said Eduardo Medina Mora, the Mexican ambassador to the U.S., before the release of the data at the Wilson Center in Washington. "As numbers show, Mexico will not be a major source of immigrants to the U.S. in the future."

The new data came from the binational non-profit Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together, which surveyed 600 migrants who had left the U.S. and moved to the Mexican state of Jalisco. The state has the highest volume of return migrants, according to researchers.

Here are some of the major findings from the MATT study:

1. Immigrants still come for jobs. While a strong majority cited family and nostalgia as a reason to return home to Mexico, the impetus for traveling to the U.S. in the first place was largely economic. Most migrants placed jobs and salary as their main reasons for heading north.

2. Record deportations aren't changing minds. One finding questions the idea that harsh immigration policies will drive undocumented immigrants back to their home countries. Although 77 percent of the respondents said they entered the country as undocumented immigrants, only a small percentage — 4.3 percent — said they returned to Mexico because of fear of deportation. And despite soaring levels of deportations under the Obama administration, only one-in-ten respondents said they left the U.S. because they were deported. Roughly 90 percent chose to return home.

3. Most migrants never intended to stay in the U.S. One explanation for the high levels of migrants returning to Mexico is that they never intended to stay in the U.S. in the first place. Only 16 percent of those surveyed said they planned to stay in the states permanently. Aracely Garcia-Granados, the executive director of MATT, suggested that migrants might have gone home even sooner if not for the elevated levels of border enforcement since the terrorist attack on Sept. 11. "The moment the border was closed...it was harder for them to go back to Mexico and come back," she said. "So we assumed that one of the environmental factors was that if it was harder, and they had a good job here, they decided that it would be best for them to stay here."

4. Families are being split apart. While many migrants returned to Mexico because of family, they also left family behind in the U.S. More than half of those survey — 54 percent — said they had family in the states. The policy implication of this trend is pretty clear: Mexican-Americans make up the biggest percentage of immigrants in the U.S., and if more migrants are returning home, families will eventually want to have easier access to visas that will allow them to be together.

5. Returning migrants like the United States. A whopping 88 percent said that their experience in the U.S. was positive. And even with the high percentage of respondents who were undocumented, they had a positive view of law enforcement and said they didn't blame the U.S. for their legal status.

This article is published with permission from Fusion, a TV and digital network that champions a smart, diverse and inclusive America. Fusion is a partner of National Journal and The Next America. Follow the author on Twitter: @tedhesson