TIJUANA, Mexico — There are many reasons for the historic reversal of migration between the U.S. and Mexico, according the Pew Research Center, which announced Thursday that more than 1 million Mexicans headed south to re-establish their lives in the last five years, while only 870,000 migrated north to the U.S.
Some have grown tired of living in the shadow of the law, and say border jumping has become too dangerous. Jobs are easier to find now in Mexico, and family ties are powerful. Here are some of their stories:
Feliciano Bermejo spent 21 years north of the border, raising three sons who are U.S. citizens, before he was stopped in Atlanta for driving with a suspended license. He was reported to immigration authorities, and agreed to return to Mexico voluntarily, leaving his family behind, so his record would not be marred with a deportation.
The 49-year-old is keeping his fingers crossed that when his oldest turns 21 next year, the young man will be able to request legal residency for his father and reunite the family.
But he’s not banking on being allowed to return legally, and said he won’t try to sneak into the U.S. The border has become too dangerous since he last crossed in 1994, and so he is building a life in Mexico.
Thanks to his work experience in Atlanta, where he rose to being a supervisor at a company that installs fire alarms and sprinkler systems, he landed a job building oil platforms for Pemex. Now he sends his family $200 weekly from his job in Tampico to support them in the United States.
“It’s weird, right?” he said. “People sometimes ask me, how is it that instead of money being sent to you here, you’re sending money from here to over there? But, well, they need it more than me. I’m living here alone.”
When Rodrigo Quiroz got word his 79-year-old mother was dying, he hopped on a bus in Phoenix and rushed back to Mexico. He talked to her by phone on his way, but she died before he was able to catch another bus to his hometown of Culiacan.
“I never got to see her alive again,” he said.
At first, the 43-year-old planned to continue his life in Arizona, where he worked for seven years in construction and picking melons and watermelons. He hired a smuggler. But after the guide abandoned the group outside of the Mexican border town of Tecate, he realized he no longer had it in him to chase dollars.
“My mother’s death really made me think,” he said. “I want to be near my family. I don’t want to go back to the United States anymore. There’s work here too.”
A Tijuana shelter is helping him find work. His wife may join him there after their 17-year-old daughter graduates from high school in Culiacan.
He misses watching the Diamondbacks play, but said he can do without the stress of living illegally.
Lost in the Arizona desert, Saul Solis ate the fruit of the prickly pear and cut open other cactus to stay alive.
On the ninth day, the 40-year-old could not stand. It took all his strength to wave a mirror he had, sending up a glint of light with the hope it would be spotted. He heard a helicopter circling before he passed out.
When he woke, he had an oxygen mask on and was surrounded by Border Patrol agents. He spent two days in the hospital before he was sent across the border to Mexicali.
“I felt like God gave me a second chance, so now that I’m back, I want to live here,” he said.
Solis learned to remodel homes during his 19 years in the United States, which ended abruptly when he got picked up in an immigration raid outside a Home Depot in Tacoma, Washington. Now he hopes those skills will translate into work in Tijuana. His brother, still in Washington, plans to send him his tool set.
Jose Arellano Correa, 41, always felt it was too risky to take his wife and children to the United States. He spent a decade working in restaurants in Los Angeles, but says he never adapted, and often felt discriminated against for being Mexican.
In 2005, he rejoined his family in Mexico City, where he now works as a taxi driver and has no regrets.
“My mother was sick, my kids were sad and no amount of money is worth such sadness,” he said. “The only way I’d go back now is legally. And if I could go, I would want to work and be able to come back to see my family.”