Mexicans are saying goodbye to President Donald Trump. Something has changed over the last several years: Mexicans are packing their bags and leaving their adopted homeland.
The data is astonishing: In 2007, 6.9 million undocumented Mexicans lived in the United States. By 2017, that number had fallen to 4.9 million, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. In just one decade, 2 million Mexicans left the country.
Demographic changes of this size shouldn’t be taken lightly; they don’t just happen. It’s clear that Mexicans are no longer willing to live in Trump’s America.
For decades, the dream for many Mexicans was to work in the United States. New York City, home to a large immigrant population from the town of Puebla, came to be known in some circles as “Puebla York.” For the Mexican communities that called them home, the neighborhoods and cities of La Villita in San Antonio, Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles, Pilsen in Chicago and Little Oaxaca in upstate New York, to mention only a few, became new Mexicos, imperfect but earnest reflections of the homeland migrants had left behind. The tacos al pastor, enchiladas and pozole may not have been exactly the same, but they helped Mexicans cope with their homesickness and stay connected to their past.
Years ago, coming to the United States was worth the sacrifice. Mexican immigrants left everything behind: homes, families and friends, as well as a lifetime of memories tied to particular places and sounds and smells. In return, their children would have the chance to seek a better life. And, with a little luck and a lot of hard work, they might even manage to save up enough to buy a house and secure a decent retirement.
Of course there was more than just a little luck involved in not getting caught up in a raid and avoiding deportation. Still, more Mexicans kept on heading to the United States, and they stayed once they got here.
Gradually, however, travel to the north became harder. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush built fences and barriers along the southern border and posted thousands of Patrol agents there. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. tightened its immigration policies to combat terrorism, and it became politically impossible to legalize America’s undocumented immigrant population. All immigrants suffered as a result.
Entering the United States — whether by crossing rivers, deserts or mountains — became increasingly difficult and expensive. Human traffickers, known as coyotes, charged thousands of dollars. Worst of all, immigrants already living in the United States were no longer free to go home, whether for a Christmas holiday or any other good reason. Millions of Mexicans became stuck. New Year’s Eve would never be the same for these families. Nor could they bury their dead back home.
In January 2009, Barack Obama became president. Obama proposed an immigration reform plan and created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, to protect the hundreds of thousands of young people living in the United States illegally who had been brought here as children.
In practice, however, Obama deported more illegal immigrants (most of them Mexican) than any other U.S. president — more than 3 million between 2009 and 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. Hence the nickname “Deporter in Chief.”
Obama’s policies begin to explain why so many Mexicans have left the United States in recent years: They were simply deported. Perhaps many others didn’t want to risk being arrested, or couldn’t find the jobs they wanted, so they returned to Mexico voluntarily, along with their entire families.
In June 2015, Trump showed up on the scene, descending Trump Tower’s golden escalator to formally announce his presidential bid, and in the process accusing Mexican immigrants of being criminals, rapists and drug traffickers.
Since then, everything has taken a turn for the worse. Following Trump’s arrival in the White House in January 2017, he launched the largest crackdown on immigrants since 1954, when Operation Wetback led to the deportation of 1 million Mexicans.
It’s worth asking why so many Mexicans are going home while Mexico has its own problems. High crime rates, for example, are a major concern.
Well, it turns out that even the most desperate immigrant has his breaking point. Mexicans remained hopeful in the face of walls, raids, deportations, racist threats, unfulfilled promises — even Trump himself. The problem is that there’s no sign that things will improve any time soon. Even if a Democrat wins the presidency in 2020, it will be many years before an immigration reform bill that would legalize the status of America’s 10.5 million undocumented immigrants can be passed.
This is why so many Mexicans are saying: “Goodbye, Mr. Trump.”