Throughout his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump took a tough anti-immigrant posture, especially concerning so-called illegals—or, to use the more politically correct term, the undocumented. In this country of laws, it is a great injustice to use the law against those who are utterly vulnerable and whose only crime is to be poor and facing the impossibility of attaining a better life in their own countries—often due to the economic and military policies of the United States.
With great hypocrisy, this country both accepts, detains and deports millions of immigrants and tolerates the arrival and clandestine stay of millions more for the sake of their cheap labor. Under the conditions of their “illegality,” these immigrants often maintain their families back home, take difficult and risky jobs that nobody else wants, and rarely complain about bad working conditions or low pay. Instead, they work as much as possible, often at several jobs under the worst circumstances.
In this situation of permanent injustice, they live secret and silent lives, and are always afraid of being discovered, arrested and deported. Among the most anxious and insecure are those who could be separated from their children or spouses. Poverty and injustice chased them from their home countries, where a lack of opportunity to live well, educate themselves and find dignified work ironically brought them here, a complex place whose operation they struggle to understand. To adapt is a difficult process.
In the 1980s, the United States offered immigration “amnesty.” This was purportedly to legalize those immigrants who complied with certain requirements, and to bring a bit of justice and certainty to the irregular and uncertain situation under which they lived. The idea was that immigrants granted amnesty could become actual participants in the political and social life of this country. Unfortunately, the always-postponed and never-realized immigration reform has become merely a weapon of our political parties, which toy with the destiny, lives and hopes of millions of innocent people and their families.
Now, with Trump, we have a strong wave of anti-immigrant feeling at the national level; it is not the first, and surely it will not be the last. Following the complicated and absurd promise to construct a wall on the Mexican border, the persecution, detention and deportation of illegals has brought major anguish and fear to millions of undocumented immigrants. Perhaps the most affected are those with children who were born here and are thus citizens; for them, the separation of their families, already a common experience in their home countries, could happen again here.
Starting with the economic crisis of 2007, the number of Mexicans arriving in the United States stopped growing, and by 2010 the number leaving equaled the number arriving.
A Mexican study looking at the reasons and circumstances surrounding immigrants who had returned from the United States found that, between 2005 and 2010, 1.4 million people had returned to Mexico. Of those, 89 percent reported returning voluntarily; just 11 percent were deported. Forty percent returned for family reasons, 30 percent because of homesickness, 11.3 percent because they were unable to find work or because of strong anti-immigrant measures, and 1.7 percent because they felt discriminated against.
Fifty-three percent said they would never return to the United States, 30 percent said they would and 17 percent said they might, but legally. The study corroborated that the majority—64 percent—had traveled to the United States to seek employment; half of those said they went for a better job and half sought better pay. Twenty-three percent went for “adventure” and 11 percent because of family pressure. Seventy-five percent had entered the country undocumented, 15.3 percent had tourist visas and the rest entered with student or work visas.
Three-quarters of these immigrants sent money home to help their families or to build or repair homes, which explains why there are many semi-occupied towns with enormous empty and half-constructed houses. Half of the surveyed immigrants sent home between $200 and $500 per month; 23.5 percent sent $500 to $1,000. And most of the returnees looked back positively on their time in the United States. They felt laws were respected and justice applied equitably, and that they were responsible for their decisions and destiny.
Reintegrating back into life in Mexico has not been easy, the study found. Immigrants blame low wages, a lack of employment and poor working conditions, as well as housing that is expensive to rent and buy. Health care services are often limited and of poor quality, not to mention the eternal bureaucratic corruption and inefficiency inherent in all public services. More than half of the returnees confessed that the experiences and knowledge they obtained in the United States didn’t help ease their return.
One must assume that, given the Trump administration’s stated immigration policy, the lot of all immigrants, undocumented or not, will worsen, not only with more arrests and deportations, but also with the new wave of hatred and discrimination. We’ll see if that’s the case.