Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

O'Neil analyzes developments in Latin America and U.S. relations in the region.

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Migration, Aeromexico style

by Shannon K. O'Neil
October 22, 2007

Flying yesterday from JFK to Mexico City on Aeromexico’s afternoon flight, I sat next to a Mexican man in his late twenties. We started talking when he asked me to translate a few words on the English language customs form that were handed out.

He was returning to Mexico “ to a small town in Morelos “ after almost two years in the New York area. The main reason was to see his family: his wife, children, parents, and other relatives. While he never had working papers, during his two years he held jobs in restaurants, hotels, and most recently in a supermarket. He came to the United States with four friends, easily crossing the border, ending up in Los Vegas, flying to Boston, and then making his way down to New York.

He was both happy and sad about his return: happy to see his family after such a long absence, but also sad to leave the opportunities of the United States. He told me he plans on driving a taxi (his family has an extra car) and perhaps studying to get a certificate to join the municipal police or a private security company. But, if it doesn’t work out, he will migrate again to the United States. His employer at the supermarket told him to hurry back, saying there would always be a position for him. If he does return, it will only be for a limited amount of time again, so he can earn more money to help out his family.

His story is similar to that of so many migrants. He doesn’t want to stay in the United States: his home and family are in small town Mexico. But he also is searching for better economic opportunities to provide for his family. He is engaging, like so many others, in “circular migration,” moving back and forth between Mexico and the United States. Yet with the current U.S. migration system, this behavior is becoming increasingly difficult. With no legal means to come, and the rising costs of illegal crossings, many migrants are returning less often and are even deciding to settle in the United States permanently. But this situation leaves no one happy. For the United States millions of individuals continue working and living in the shadows, and for the Mexicans, they remain far from their home.

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