Mexicans Leaving Under Duress

Mexicans leaving under duress
Economy, enforcement cited as consulates see sharp rise in returnees

By Octavio Rivera Lopez
The Dallas Morning News, July 5, 2008

Two hours were enough for Jos Luis Snchez and his family to pack their most valuable belongings in two vans – items accumulated in 10 years of living in the Dallas area.

With his wife, children and their suitcases in place, Mr. Snchez closed the door of his Mesquite apartment for the last time, sat at the wheel of one of the vehicles – his brother drove the other – and hit the road back to his homeland.

So ended his decade-long adventure as an illegal Mexican immigrant in the United States.

According to Mexican consulate officials in Dallas, some 400 immigrant families have told them so far this year that they're going back to Mexico and asked for transfer documents to enroll their children in Mexican schools.

Enrique Hubbard Urrea, Mexican consul general in Dallas, said it is impossible to track every Mexican who leaves the area. But he said the number asking for transfer documents at the consulate is on the rise.

In 2005, the consulate issued 162 such documents; in 2006 it was 199; and last year it was 270. At the current rate, more than twice as many people will leave this year as last, he said.

'There is no doubt the trend indicates that the number is growing,' Mr. Hubbard said.

And it isn't happening only in Dallas. At the Mexican consulates in Chicago and Phoenix, too, the number of Mexican families applying for transfer documents for their children has increased.

So far in 2008, more people (752) have visited the Mexican consulate in Phoenix to apply for transfer documents than the total for 2006 (248) and 2007 (330) combined, according to officials there.

According to informal surveys by the Mexican consulate in Dallas, most of those wanting to return to Mexico cite the sudden scarcity of jobs, fear of deportation and uncertainty about obtaining legal resident status any time soon.

In the last few years, and particularly the last few months, Mr. Snchez struggled to find work. His earnings dwindled as his children grew up and their needs multiplied.

'People like me, if you don't work one day, you worry about how to feed your family the next day,' he said. 'We as immigrant workers never have stability, even if the economy is doing well. Imagine how things are now.'

Also, he said, there is growing anti-immigrant sentiment that he would rather not experience anymore.

'Those of us who live here live depressed all the time, in hiding,' he said. 'They don't like us here, and those who love us and whom we love are far away. I prefer to go back, even if it means living in poorer conditions.'

Mr. Hubbard said tougher enforcement of immigration laws in the last few years hasn't gone unnoticed.

'Some say companies fear hiring people without proper documents,' he said.

He said others are seeing authorities detain more people in Irving, Farmers Branch and, to a lesser degree, Carrollton.

Carl Rusnok, spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Dallas, said deportation of Mexican immigrants nationally has grown from 108,900 in 2005 to 136,370 last year.

Mark Lpez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, said he has no reliable data about the number of immigrants returning to Mexico but is not surprised many are going.

'Lower-income people – obviously including immigrants – have been disproportionately affected by the economic downturn,' he said.

Two weeks ago, the Pew center said the unemployment rate among Hispanic immigrants reached 7.5 percent in the first quarter of 2008, compared with 5.5 percent during the same quarter of last year.

Mr. Hubbard and Mr. Lpez say the departures could cause problems for cities, especially those that have pushed ordinances hostile to immigrants, because in scaring immigrants away, they are driving away part of their workforce along with its purchasing power.

'If they don't like them as neighbors, they won't like them as consumers, either,' said Mr. Hubbard.

But others think that immigrants returning to their countries won't hurt the U.S. economy.

'The country's economy adjusted to the immigrants' presence. No doubt it will adjust to their absence,' said Ira Mehlman, national spokesman for FAIR, an organization opposed to illegal immigration.

'That these people are leaving proves what we have been saying for years,' he said. 'If you begin enforcing the law to prevent them getting what they come here to get, they will go.'

Mr. Mehlman said FAIR would like to see more immigrants leave, not because of hard economic times but because of law enforcement.

He said the return of Mexican immigrants to their home country would force the government there to make reforms to jump-start its economy.

'Exporting its unemployed, underemployed citizens or those who are unhappy there allowed the Mexican government to get rid of the pressure to introduce changes for the benefit of their people,' Mr. Mehlman said. 'Now that their people are going back, perhaps they won't be able to shun their responsibility any longer.'

As the moment to leave came, Jos Luis Snchez and his family didn't have an idea of the Mexico awaiting them. From their family, they expect everything. From their home country, not much.

'We're going to continue living by the day, for sure,' he said. 'But psychologically we're going to be better. With our family, without fears, without pressures. It's worth the difficulties.'

And, he added, 'The American Dream is just that – a dream.'