DALLAS — Illegal immigrants are returning home to Mexico in numbers not seen for decades — and the Mexican government may have to deal with a crush on its social services and lower wages once the immigrants arrive.
The Mexican Consulate's office in Dallas is seeing increasing numbers of Mexican nationals requesting paperwork to go home for good, especially parents who want to know what documentation they'll need to enroll their children in Mexican schools.
"Those numbers have increased percentage-wise tremendously," said Enrique Hubbard, the Mexican consul general in Dallas. "In fact, it's almost 100 percent more this year than it was the previous two years."
The illegal immigrant population in the U.S. has dropped 11 percent since August of last year, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. Its research shows 1.3 million illegal immigrants have returned to their home countries.
Some say illegal immigrants are leaving because a soft economy has led to fewer jobs, causing many laborers to seek work elsewhere.
Others argue that a tough stance on immigration through law enforcement has spread fear throughout the illegal population.
"There's no question there's a variety of suggestions that people are in fact returning," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. "Remittances, which is the money immigrants send home to Mexico, have gone down dramatically over the past year. Again, probably part the economy, but also part enforcement, leading to fewer people being here."
Advocates for immigrants are disturbed by the trend. Albert Ruiz, an organizer for the League of United Latin American Citizens, agrees that more undocumented immigrants are going home — but says families are being torn apart in the process.
If a father is deported, Ruiz says, his family members in America are forced either to fend for themselves or follow him to a country where they've never even lived.
"So the mother is saying we should return home with the breadwinner of the family to Mexico, and the children are saying, I don't want to leave, I'm a U.S. citizen, I don't know that country," said Ruiz.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon plans to help returning nationals by providing food, medical care and temporary shelter if needed. But reports are already out in Mexico that the large number of illegal immigrants returning home could drive down wages and put pressure on social services — the same concerns many Americans have with illegals living and working in the U.S.