Mexican immigration slows as ‘better life’ in US proves elusive

Versión en Español a continuación

An immigrant construction worker building a new home in Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood. Employer James Watanabe says most of his company's Mexican workers eventually return home, usually without much notice. (Photo by Alysa Hullett)
An immigrant construction worker building a new home in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood. Employer James Watanabe says most of his company’s Mexican workers eventually return home, usually without much notice. (Photo by Alysa Hullett)

Julio Cesar Estelar packed his bags, forked over thousands of pesos and set out for the U.S.-Mexico border at Tijuana.

It was 2005 and Cesar Estelar was just 19 years old. Setting off from the border town of Tecate, he walked for hours in the rain, wanting nothing other than to run back to the familiarity of his Mexico City flat.

He kept trekking anyway, his 2-month-old son in the back of his mind.

Everyone told him he could make a lot of money in the states; he planned to send it back to his son’s mother, in hopes of building him a better life.

With the help of a “coyote,” eventually, he made it to Los Angeles. From there, he squished into a bus with 25 others and made the 20-hour journey north, eventually settling in Renton, Washington with his mother, who’d crossed the border herself years before.

Within five months, he had reliable job with a construction company, building houses in the rain and the cold. Sometimes he could barely move his hands, but the hours were reasonable, his boss was friendly and the job paid many times more than what he could make in Mexico.

He thought of that money while he sat, silent and alone, slurping bowls of his newfound favorite Vietnamese pho soup.

After four years in the states, he flew back to Mexico for the first time for his brother’s wedding.

His boss, James Watanabe, emailed him to tell him he could potentially get him the documents necessary to work legally in the U.S. and eventually pave his path to citizenship. Those golden papers would mean an end to sneaking, smuggling, breaking the law.

Julio Cesar Estelar, who returned to Mexico City after four years working construction in Renton, cited loneliness as one reason he was willing to sacrifice higher pay in the US. (Photo by Alysa Hullett)
Julio Cesar Estelar, who returned to Mexico City after four years working construction in Renton, cited loneliness as one reason he was willing to sacrifice higher pay in the US. (Photo by Alysa Hullett)

Again, he thought of the money he was making in Seattle.

He didn’t care.

Cesar Estelar never came back to the U.S.

Mexican immigrants, about half of whom are estimated to enter the country illegally, are returning to their home country at a staggering rate — and not just because they’re being deported.

Despite the stereotypical images the term “undocumented immigrant” might conjure up — of Mexican laborers sent back protesting, handcuffed — an estimated 90 percent of Mexican immigrants who return home do so on their own terms. Some find the U.S. job market to be less lucrative than they’d hoped. Others face crippling alienation, usually paired with a desperate longing for their own culture.

Most, like Cesar Estelar, simply miss home.

“One can earn more money there, buy more things, but feel more alone,” Cesar Estelar, now 29, said of his brief time in the states.

Between 2005 and 2010, 1.4 million immigrants moved back to Mexico from the U.S. — about double the number who returned during the previous five-year period. During the same time period, Mexican immigration to the U.S. was at about the same level — roughly 1.4 million Mexican immigrants moved to the U.S.

Based on the data, experts surmise that net migration to and from Mexico is at zero, or even less.

“One can earn more money there, buy more things, but feel more alone.”

Pew Research Center senior demographer and U.S. immigration expert Jeffrey Passel says the rate stayed “pretty close to zero” from 2009 to 2012. He said the housing market and general economic decline led to the initial spike in Mexicans returning home. Although the data is the most recent available, he said the flow is believed to have remained relatively stagnant since, with fewer undocumented immigrants coming to the states than are returning to Mexico, while more legal immigrants with papers are coming than returning.

Other factors include stronger border enforcement and improved economic conditions in Mexico. As a result, fewer Mexicans want to immigrate to the U.S. Also, lower birth rates in Mexico have meant less fiscal demand to move.

While emigration from Mexico appears to be dropping, emigration from Central American countries seems to be rising. There was an approximately 68 percent increase last year in border apprehensions from countries other than Mexico, mostly El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Meanwhile, there was a 14 percent drop in apprehensions of Mexicans over the same time period. Of course, estimates of undocumented immigration based on border apprehensions are flawed because they also reflect changing border enforcement efforts.

Watanabe, Cesar Estelar’s boss for the majority of his time in the states, says that based on his experience he expects about 80 percent of the migrant workforce at his construction company will return home permanently at some point. He says it’s never planned or discussed; most workers just generally return to Mexico eventually.

The phenomenon at Watanabe’s company stacks up with the general trend in Mexican migration. Mexican immigrants tend to arrive, and then go back home after a period as short as a few months or as long as several years, in a practice known as circular migration.

About 84 percent of Mexican migrants said they came to the U.S. with the intent to eventually leave again.

Hispanic laborers wait outside of Lowe's Home Improvement store on Rainier Ave looking for temporary work. (Photo by Alysa Hullett)
Hispanic laborers wait outside of Lowe’s Home Improvement store on Rainier Ave looking for temporary work. (Photo by Alysa Hullett)

Still, Watanabe says he sticks to hiring Latin workers, even if it means constantly cycling through them.

“Americans are lazy,” he complains. He says he has about 18 employees, all Hispanic, only one of whom entered the country legally.

He added that unlike other construction businesses in King County, who tend to have a “wage-scale for Americans, and a wage scale for Mexicans,” he pays his workers as much as he can afford.

While some Mexicans choose to go home because of poor economic opportunity, Cesar Estelar had found financial security at Watanabe’s business.

He also found comfort in living with his mother, who moved to the states soon after he was born to provide for him, just as he did for his son. He lived in her house with his stepfather and his three half-brothers.

“It took me eight months in Renton to meet my neighbor.”

In addition to family, he made friends. He played indoor club soccer with Tukwila’s Starfire team. Once, he says, they beat the Sounders team back before it entered the MLS.

Still, thoughts of the “compadre” nature of people back home — how they tend to be friendlier, closer and more open, pervaded his mind. “It took me eight months in Renton to meet my neighbor,” Cesar Estelar said incredulously. I finally saw him and asked, ‘are you my neighbor?’”

In Mexico City, he compared, the whole street piles into one house for dinner.

Miguel Diaz García made a similar, though longer trek at age 31, from Guadalajara, Mexico to the Seattle area. After a 15-day voyage, he arrived in Issaquah, where he lived with his sister, brother-in-law and his two nephews.

He quickly found a job at an Italian restaurant, where he found washing marinara-splattered dishes painfully mundane.

“Every day was the same,” Diaz García complained. “Everything was automatic.”

Miguel Diaz García, who decided to return to his home in Guadalajara, Mexico after working in a restaurant in Issaquah for a year. (Photo by Alysa Hullett)
Miguel Diaz García, who decided to return to his home in Guadalajara, Mexico after working in a restaurant in Issaquah for a year. (Photo by Alysa Hullett)

After work, he wrote pining letters to his wife, Luisa. “I’m still the same,” he would write. “Everything is still the same.”

After a year of repetition and longing, he asked himself why he was still here.

So he went home. He went back to his carpentry job and into the arms of his wife, and didn’t look back.

“One works here, and works there. You earn here, and you earn there,” Diaz García explained. “The difference is that here you earn 20 pesos, and there you earn 20 dollars.”

While he cherishes learning some English and the relationships he built, pain the separation caused him is visible in his eyes as he steals glances back at his wife.

“I don’t miss it,” he admits. “But life is an experience, the good and the bad.”

Since he returned to Mexico six years ago, Cesar Estelar has managed to find a job as a police officer in Mexico City. He says he earns less than when he was in Renton, but he also works less.

He misses Japanese and Chinese food, especially Kung Pao shrimp.

“You can’t find that in Mexico City,” he says.

He misses his soccer buddies and the other life-long friendships he built.

But the day he returned home to Mexico City, he said he felt “like a kid on Christmas.”

He’s getting married next year, and his fiancée is eager to visit his extended family in Seattle someday. Visions from “Grey’s Anatomy,” the setting of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and the hope of seeing snow for the first time fuel her desire.

Her eager eyes hint she feels the same allure of the U.S. that Cesar Estelar and so many Mexicans before him did.

Cesar Estelar, however, is content to stay home in Mexico City.

Spanish version:

A Mexican construction worker building a new home in Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood. Employer James Watanabe says most of his company's Mexican workers eventually return home, usually without much notice. (Photo by Alysa Hullett)
A Mexican construction worker building a new home in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood. Employer James Watanabe says most of his company’s Mexican workers eventually return home, usually without much notice. (Photo by Alysa Hullett)

Julio Cesar Estelar hizo las maletas, desembolsó miles de pesos y se dirigió a la frontera de México con Estados Unidos en Tijuana.

Era el 2005 y César Estelar tenía sólo 19 años. Partiendo de la ciudad fronteriza de Tecate, caminó durante horas bajo la lluvia, sin desear nada más que correr de regreso a la familiaridad de su apartamento en la ciudad de México.

Siguió caminando de todos modos, con su hijo de 2 meses de edad, en su mente.

Todo el mundo le dijo que podía hacer un montón de dinero en los estados; planeaba enviarlo a la madre de su hijo, con la esperanza de crearle de una vida mejor.

Con la ayuda de un “coyote”, finalmente, dejó a Los Ángeles. Desde allí, en un autobús con otras 25 personas hizo el viaje de 20 horas hacia el norte, y eventualmente se instaló en Renton, Washington, con su madre, que también había cruzado la frontera años antes.

En cinco meses, tenía trabajo fiable con una empresa de construcción, construyendo viviendas en la lluvia y el frío. A veces apenas podía mover las manos, pero las horas eran razonables, su jefe era amable y el trabajo pagaba muchas veces más de lo que podía ganar en México.

Pensaba en el dinero mientras estaba sentado, en silencio y solo, sorbiendo su sopa pho vietnamita favorita recientemente descubierta.

Después de cuatro años en los estados, voló de regreso a México por primera vez para la boda de su hermano.

Su jefe, James Watanabe, le envió un correo electrónico para decirle que potencialmente podía obtener los documentos necesarios para trabajar legalmente en los EE.UU. y, finalmente allanar su camino hacia la ciudadanía. Esos papeles dorados significarían el fin a estar a escondidas, contrabandeando, violando la ley.

Julio Cesar Estelar, who returned to Mexico City after four years working construction in Renton, cited loneliness as one reason he was willing to sacrifice higher pay in the US. (Photo by Alysa Hullett)
Julio Cesar Estelar, who returned to Mexico City after four years working construction in Renton, cited loneliness as one reason he was willing to sacrifice higher pay in the US. (Photo by Alysa Hullett)

Una vez más, pensó en el dinero que estaba haciendo en Seattle.

No le importó.

Cesar Estelar nunca regresó a los EE.UU.

De acuerdo con un reporte de Pew Research Center, los inmigrantes mexicanos, de los cuales se estima que aproximadamente la mitad entraron al país ilegalmente, están regresando a su país de origen a un ritmo asombroso — y no sólo porque están siendo deportados.

A pesar de las imágenes estereotipadas que el término “inmigrante indocumentado” puede evocar – trabajadores mexicanos enviados de regreso protestando, esposados – se estima que el 90 por ciento de los inmigrantes mexicanos que regresan a casa lo hacen en sus propios términos. Algunos encuentran que el mercado laboral de Estados Unidos es menos lucrativo de lo que habían esperado. Otros se enfrentan a la alienación paralizante, por lo general combinado con un desesperado anhelo de su propia cultura.

La mayoría, como Cesar Estelar, simplemente extrañan su hogar.

“Uno puede ganar más dinero allí, comprar más cosas, pero se siente más solo,” Cesar Estelar, ahora de 29 años, dijo de su breve tiempo en los estados.

Entre 2005 y 2010, 1,4 millones de inmigrantes regresaron a México desde los EE.UU. casi el doble del número que regresó durante el anterior período de cinco años. Durante el mismo período de tiempo, alrededor de 1,4 millones de inmigrantes mexicanos se trasladaron a los EE.UU.

Sobre la base de los datos, los expertos suponen que la migración neta desde y hacia México está en cero, o incluso menos.

“Uno puede ganar más dinero allí, comprar más cosas, pero se siente más solo”

El demógrafo y experto en inmigración de Estados Unidos, Jeffrey Passel del Pew Research Center dice que la tasa quedó “muy cerca de cero” del 2009 al 2012. Dijo que el mercado de la vivienda y el deterioro general de la economía llevaron al inicio del retorno de los mexicanos a casa. Aunque la información es la más reciente disponible, dijo que se cree que el flujo se ha mantenido relativamente estancado. Un número menor de inmigrantes indocumentados vienen que los que están regresando a México, mientras que más inmigrantes legales con papeles están viniendo que aquellos que están regresando.

Otros factores incluyen la fuerte vigilancia en la frontera y la mejora de las condiciones económicas en México. Como resultado, un menor número de mexicanos quieren emigrar a los EE.UU. Además, las tasas de natalidad más bajas en México han significado una menor demanda fiscal para mudarse.

Si bien la emigración de México parece estar disminuyendo, la emigración desde países centroamericanos parece ir en aumento. Hubo un aumento de aproximadamente el 68 por ciento el año pasado en las detenciones fronterizas de países distintos a México, sobre todo El Salvador, Guatemala y Honduras. Mientras tanto, hubo una caída del 14 por ciento en las aprehensiones de mexicanos en el mismo período de tiempo. Por supuesto, las estimaciones de la inmigración indocumentada en base a las detenciones fronterizas son erróneas, ya que también reflejan el cambio de los esfuerzos de control fronterizo.

Watanabe, jefe de Cesar Estelar durante la mayor parte de su tiempo en los EE.UU, dice que en base a su experiencia espera que alrededor del 80 por ciento de la fuerza de trabajo migrante en su empresa de construcción volverá a casa permanente en algún momento. Dice que nunca es planeado o discutido; la mayoría de los trabajadores simplemente regresan a México eventualmente.

El fenómeno en la compañía de Watanabe se alinea con la tendencia general en la migración mexicana. Los inmigrantes mexicanos tienden a llegar, y luego volver a casa después de un período tan corto como unos pocos meses o hasta varios años, en una práctica conocida como la migración circular.

Alrededor del 84 por ciento de los migrantes mexicanos, dicen que llegaron a los EE.UU. con la intención de dejarlo finalmente de nuevo.

Hispanic laborers wait outside of Lowe's Home Improvement store on Rainier Ave looking for temporary work. (Photo by Alysa Hullett)
Hispanic laborers wait outside of Lowe’s Home Improvement store on Rainier Ave looking for temporary work. (Photo by Alysa Hullett)

Aún así, Watanabe dice que continúa contratando trabajadores latinos, incluso si esto significa constantemente la rotación de ellos.

“Los estadounidenses son perezosos”, se queja. Él dice que tiene alrededor de 18 empleados, todos hispanos, sólo uno de los cuales ingresaron al país de manera legal.

Agregó que a diferencia de otras empresas de la construcción en el condado de King, que tienden a tener una “escala salarial para los estadounidenses, y una escala salarial para los mexicanos”, el paga a sus trabajadores tanto como puede permitirse.

Mientras que algunos mexicanos optan por ir a casa debido a una mala oportunidad económica, Cesar Estelar había encontrado la seguridad financiera en el negocio de Watanabe.

También encontró consuelo en vivir con su madre, quien se mudó a los EE.UU poco después de que él nació para proveer para él, tal como lo hizo con su hijo. Vivió en su casa con su padrastro y sus tres hermanastros.

Además de la familia, se hizo amigo. Jugó en un club de fútbol de salón con el equipo Starfire de Tukwila . Dijo que una vez venció al equipo de Sounders antes de entrar en la MLS.

“Me tomó ocho meses conocer a mi vecino en Renton.”

Aún, recuerdos del trato de “compadre” de la gente en casa – de cómo tienden a ser más amables, más cercanos y más abiertos, invadían su mente. “Me tomó ocho meses conocer a mi vecino en Renton,” dijo César Estelar con incredulidad. Finalmente lo vi y le pregunté: ¿eres mi vecino? ”

En la Ciudad de México, comparó, toda la gente de la calle se enciman en una casa para la cena.

Miguel Díaz García hizo una travesía similar, aunque más larga a los 31 años, desde Guadalajara, México a la zona de Seattle. Después de un viaje de 15 días, llegó a Issaquah, donde vivía con su hermana, cuñado y sus dos sobrinos.

Rápidamente encontró un trabajo en un restaurante italiano, donde encontró que lavar paltos salpicados de marinara era dolorosamente mundano.

“Todos los días era lo mismo,” se quejó Díaz García. “Todo era automático.”

Miguel Diaz García, who decided to return to his home in Guadalajara, Mexico after working in a restaurant in Issaquah for a year. (Photo by Alysa Hullett)
Miguel Diaz García, who decided to return to his home in Guadalajara, Mexico after working in a restaurant in Issaquah for a year. (Photo by Alysa Hullett)

Después del trabajo, escribía cartas a su esposa, Luisa. “Sigo siendo el mismo”, escribiría. “Todo sigue igual.”

Después de un año de repetición y nostalgia, se preguntó por qué estaba todavía aquí.

Así que se fue a casa. Volvió a su trabajo de carpintería y a los brazos de su mujer, y no miró hacia atrás.

“Uno trabaja aquí, y trabaja allá. Ganas aquí, y ganas allá,” explicó Díaz García. “La diferencia es que aquí ganas 20 pesos, y allá ganas 20 dólares.”

Mientras que él aprecia haber aprendido algo de inglés y las relaciones que hizo, el dolor que la separación le causó es visible en sus ojos mientras roba unas miradas hacia atrás a su esposa.

“No echo de menos,” admite. “Pero la vida es una experiencia, lo bueno y lo malo.”

Desde que regresó a México hace seis años, Cesar Estelar ha logrado encontrar un trabajo como policía en la Ciudad de México. Dice que gana menos que cuando estaba en Renton, pero también trabaja menos.

Extraña la comida japonesa y china, especialmente el camarón Kung Pao.

“No puedes encontrar eso en la Ciudad de México,” dice.

Echa de menos a sus compañeros de fútbol y las otras amistades de toda la vida que construyó.

Pero el día en que regresó a su casa a la Ciudad de México, dijo que se sentía “como un niño en Navidad.”

Se va a casar el año que viene, y su prometida está dispuesta a visitar a su familia extendida en Seattle algún día. Las visiones de “Grey’s Anatomy,” los escenarios de “Fifty Shades of Grey” y la esperanza de ver la nieve por primera vez alimentan su deseo.

Sus ojos ansiosos insinúan que ella siente el mismo encanto por los EE.UU. que Cesar Estelar y tantos mexicanos antes que él.

Cesar Estelar, sin embargo, se contenta con quedarse en casa en Ciudad de México.

5 Comments

  1. Right.
    Crap.
    Everyone who is not LEGAL leave. You should not be here. Do you get that?

    So, One "carlos" and 20 million others staying here illegally. IT ILLEGAL, IT'S NOT "undocumented"

  2. Umm, how is this different from the article you wrote a week later (Rejecting the American Dream)? Is your assignment to write one sob story per week?

    It's amazing how these bleeding hearts write this crap and expect us to feel sorry for someone who knowingly breaks our country's laws. Oh, shucks, he didn't meet his neighbor for a long time!! BOO HOO!!!!

    Enter legally and I'll welcome you with open arms. Enter illegally and you deserve to be spit on and sent home with a kick to the ass.

    1. Why do they believe that they, alone, are exempt from the rule of law ? Do we really need to import that kind of criminal mentality ? To what extent will that behavior go?

  3. These construction companies need to be arrested for harboring illegals ! They are the real problem , not only taring up our once beautiful places like Los Angeles County was ! these selfish land developers are a magnet for cheep labor so they can profit more for their service’s of destruction ! I hope all illegal aliens return back to their land and their town , so I can return back to my home town without having to worry about Spanish insults and their Culture ! Please , Go home …………………….and you General Contractors out there , stop your crap !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.