Why are More and More Mexican Illegal Immigrant Workers Leaving California Back to Mexico?

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Mexican workers by John Debay is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

An increasing number of Mexican immigrant workers – legal and illegal – are making the decision to pack up their bags and head home. This is especially true in California, where some of the jobs that workers have relied on are going downhill and the COVID-19 pandemic has taken an especially heavy toll on the Mexican-American community.

California Used to be Dreamland for Mexican Workers, Now It’s Just Another Place

As Luz Gallegos of Training Occupation Development Educating Communities Legal Center (TODEC) puts it:

“California was also always a place where my family – my parents and grandparents – believed they could build a better life. It was always a place with potential.”

However, more and more Mexican illegal immigrants are getting sick and many farms and facilities they work at don’t have treatment options. Many who have applied for Green Cards are worried about getting in trouble or losing their chance at permanent residency if they go register at a hospital.

Under new rules by the Trump Administration there is a “public charge” regulation where the government can decline to give residency to illegals who rely on public benefits, although it hasn’t been put into action after being denied by a federal court.

“You should think about your health first. You’ll have no use for a green card if you’re not alive,” Gallegos has told undocumented workers who come to him for advice. However, many decided that the whole situation has simply become too stressful and are packing up and heading home. “It’s not even that the country is not welcoming any more, it’s just not an option any more. I hear that all the time from people here, and from friends and family in other countries.”

Mexico Flag by Worlds Direction is marked with CC0 1.0

‘The Situation for Us in Mexico Right Now is So Much Better’

One example of a Mexican worker who’s left the US is Javier Figuero, who moved back to Mexico three years ago after more than a decade in California. He’s seen more friends and family come back to Mexico since that time.

Even though there are still issues in Mexico, they do have healthcare and minimal unemployment benefits so there are more options if they become sick.

“In comparison to what it was in the US, the situation for us in Mexico right now is much better,” Figuero said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit illegal immigrants especially hard, and California as a whole is staggering under the pandemic. It is also much more difficult to travel and figure out how to do basic things due to the lockdown rules and restrictions that are in place in many locations such as California. Many Mexican illegal workers have jobs such as in the service industry, delivery jobs, farming and other busy, crowded jobs where diseases like COVID spread easily.

Fully 75% of farm workers in California are estimated to be illegal Mexican immigrants, so the exodus of them heading back home is having a big impact. Before the Trump Administration came in, many were already struggling.

Although official statistics are not available on how many illegal Mexican immigrants are moving back to Mexico from California, a recent study shows that the total immigrant population in the US – legal and illegal – decline by around 3% in 2020 which is the biggest drop in 20 years.

In California specifically the total immigrant population dropped by over 6% which adds up to more than 600,000 people.

Some interviewed say they believe incoming President Joe Biden will make policies more favorable to illegal immigrant workers once again and are optimistic that the situation might get better for them again.