Mexicans are going home because of the lingering effects of the financial crisis in America, economic stability in Mexico and outright deportation.
From 2009 to 2014, around one million Mexicans packed their bags to return home, while in the same period 870,000 made the trek to the north, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.
“Many people spent periods of time without work, or with work in the underground economy, while others lost the homes on which they had spent their savings over so many years,” said Ruben Hernandez-Leon, director of the Center for Mexican Studies at UCLA.
The crisis that engulfed the United States in 2008 hit hard in industries such as construction that provided a lot of work for Latinos, he added.
Many Mexicans who crossed the border between 1995 and 2005 to cash in on a real estate boom in America ended up losing their homes and jobs starting in 2008.
They could not provide for their families in the United States nor for relatives depending on them back home for remittances.
“Work has been hard to find for several years,” said Salvador Rodriguez, a 57-year-old Mexican who builds homes in Los Angeles.
“I came because things were really bad in Mexico and here it was easy to make money. But now you have to fight to get by,” he said while packing up his tools after a day of construction work.
Mr Rodriguez has no plans to leave for the time being. But co-worker and fellow Mexican Miguel Garcia says he is more and more tempted by the idea.
“If I am going to go through hard times, I might as well do it there. At least I would be with my parents and siblings,” said Mr Garcia, 48, who has not been back to Mexico since 2003.
Those most exposed to economic uncertainty and thus the prospect of returning home are those Mexicans without papers. There are roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States illegally, about half of them Mexicans, according to the Pew Research Center.
President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2014 to protect many of these people from being deported. But the measure is now held up in courts after 26 governors called it unconstitutional.
Obama’s willingness to create a path for such people without residency papers to gain legal status stands in contrast to government deportation figures. These are one of the main reasons for the net flow back to Mexico.
Since Obama came to the White House in 2009, some 2.5 million people have been expelled, most of them Mexicans.
“Each deportation affects a family. People have to return because their loved one has been deported, and they no longer see the option to stay if they lose the breadwinner,” said Armando Vazquez-Ramos, a professor at California State University in Long Beach and director of the California-Mexico Studies Center.
He said Obama stirred much hope that the problem of people without papers would be resolved, but his policies have meant that “more than 700,000 children born in the United States are now exiled in Mexico.”
The new data on the net departure of Mexicans from the United States could pave the way for a change in political discourse and the image of Latinos but professor Hernandez-Leon said that first the numbers must consolidate over time.
The debate sharpened a few months ago when Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump announced with much bluster that if elected he would expel people without papers, build a wall along the border with Mexico and make the Mexicans pay for it.
Democratic hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have shown themselves open to enacting broad immigration reform.
But Mexico faces big challenges as its people come back home, drawn by economic stability in the second largest economy in Latin America. In 2014 its GDP grew 2.1 per cent.
One big problem is that many returning Mexicans are overqualified, says Maureen Meyer, an expert at the Washington Office on Latin America.
“Many people have developed skills, such as in construction, that they will have a hard time putting to use when they return to Mexico. Because of this, these people will concentrate in big cities, even if they are from a rural area,” she said.
“Mexico is preparing to receive these people. It is not entirely ready. It is a phenomenon that needs to be addressed,” Ms Meyer said.