In December 2015, a family arrived at Memphis’ Greyhound bus terminal, a modern, spacious new building near the airport. The parents, Mexican immigrants, were about to say goodbye to their three Mexican American sons, Dennis, Dustin, and Isaias.
The parents planned to board a bus that would carry them from Tennessee to Dallas, where they would take a plane to Mexico, a country they hadn’t seen for almost 13 years.
The mother and father had entered the country illegally, and once they left, would have no right to return to the US. Years might pass before the whole family sees each other again. In the meantime, the two older sons would take care of Dustin.
But Mario Ramos and his wife Cristina Vargas weren’t being deported. Like many Mexican immigrants, they were simply choosing to go home.
Modern immigration from Mexico is the largest migration in history from any single country to the US, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Despite Trump’s statements about ongoing illegal immigration from Mexico, however, Pew researchers have concluded that around the time of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, Mexican immigration to this country slowed dramatically.
Not only did fewer Mexicans come to this country, many Mexicans went home. Between 2009 and 2014, slightly more than one million Mexicans and their US-born children left the US for Mexico.
That number exceeded the number of Mexican immigrants who arrived in America in the same period, according to the Pew report. The population of Mexican-born people in the US also began to decline. Many of the Mexican immigrants who remained weren’t new arrivals, but long-term residents with children.
Mario and Cristina’s sojourn in America began in a busy migration year, 2003, when they walked through the Arizona desert with their two oldest sons. Their youngest son was born in Memphis.
The parents said later that they came for simple reasons: Cristina wanted funds to renovate their house in Mexico; Mario wanted better education for their boys.
At the end of 2015, Mario and Cristina felt ready to return to Mexico.
Trump and other candidates were already making anti-immigration statements, but Mario and Cristina said they didn’t care about politics. Rather, they said they feared losing the house and other parcels of land they still owned in Hidalgo.
Other Mexican immigrants left for other reasons. According to a survey, 61 percent of departing Mexicans said they had returned to their home country to reunite with family or start a new family. That result surprised Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, the researcher who authored the report on Mexicans leaving the US. She said she’d expected to see more departures due to deportations or losing a job. She didn’t have any data on cases of immigrant parents leaving children in the US.
Now the Ramos family’s prospects are up in the air again. On New Year’s Day, Dennis told me he and Isaias were considering leaving the country with Dustin, probably to Canada. They had even spoken with a local realtor about selling their house and two rental properties.
They’re particularly interested in Canada because it’s a developed country. They could transport their vehicles and equipment overland. And Dennis had also seen discussion on Facebook about Canada’s recent decision to lift its visa requirement for Mexicans, making it easier for them to enter the country. If they earned legal status in Canada, they could travel easily to Mexico to visit their parents, something that’s hard for them to do today without special permission.
Many other families likewise have mixed immigration status, with parents here without proper documentation, older siblings who may have DACA, and younger children who are citizens. A 2016 Migration Policy Institute report estimates that 5.1 million children—that’s 7 percent of children in the US—have at least one parent who is undocumented. Most are US citizens themselves.
I asked Dennis what he thought: Would Trump’s election mean more parents return to Mexico while their children remain in the United States?
“I’m not sure, to be honest,” he said. “So far, I don’t know of anybody who’s just said ‘Ok, I’m leaving back to Mexico because of this.’ But I’m sure there are some people who have, who are planning on leaving.”