Incognito American

The woes of an ageing undocumented American.

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Jose was a man of all trades. He could fix almost anything with an engine, he didn't go to mechanics school, nor did he finish high school, he just understood how things worked. After 10-16 hour long days, he would go home to his family, where they would sit down for supper together and he would narrate stories of his life growing up in Mexico.

One summer, over a glass of iced tea, I sat with Jose and asked him how he felt about the current president. I was expecting anger, frustration, fear, but what Jose told me didn't convey that. It gave me an inside look at the worries of every undocumented American, the fear of growing old in a country where you've been living in incognito mode the entire time.

"I am not sure how I will survive once I cannot work, I don't have a pension, I don't have healthcare and if something happens to me, how will my family get through?" He considers going back to Mexico, knowing that he may never come back to the place he calls home, knowing he may never see his children or future grandchildren grow up. As he told me this I struggled to hold back tears, yet he remained calm, almost peaceful. This thought wasn't new to him, he had played this scenario over and over, a constant weight he had to carry, that it had almost become a part of him. "También extraño a mi México" I also miss my Mexico, he said. Jose is one of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States that are faced with this predicament. According to the Migration policy Institute, a no-partisan think tank based in Washington DC, more Mexicans are leaving the United States than are seeking to enter. "Although Mexicans are still the world's largest international migrant group, the number of Mexicans immigrating to the United States has been falling for the past 20 years." MPI noted. The report attributes this to Mexico's declining birth rates, improved economic and educational prospects that have reduced the pressure to leave Mexico, and stricter border control following the 9/11 attacks.

The decision to leave the country you've learned to call home isn't an easy one. Many undocumented immigrants have deep ties with the United States, 62% have lived in the country for over a decade, 67% are in the workforce and 34% own their own home. MATT (Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together Foundation) is a non for profit organisation that aims to bridge the gap between Mexico and the United States and focuses on the benefits of immigration for both economies and on ways in which there can be cooperation. MATT hopes to do this by firstly understanding the motive behind Mexican migration. In a quantitative study, 600 return immigrants were interviewed from three different localities; metropolitan, middle sized city and rural areas. The survey included questions about emigration, immigration, return, and intention to re-emigrate. While originally experts had thought immigrants returned to their country because of deportation, the unavailability of U.S. jobs and anti-immigrant legislation, found the major reason for leaving the United States was that they never intended to stay permanently. “Eighty-nine percent chose to return to Mexico on their own, despite the general belief that most returned through deportation” the study found. The top reason for returning was homesickness and family concerns, with only 30% saying they would return to the United States, 90% of those said they would seek to do so legally. The study also found that 20% of those who went back to Mexico, invested in a business and over the course of five years 75% of those 20% were still in business. This makes sense considering returning immigrants would now have a resume filled with new transferable skills; hard-working, creative, innovative and risk taking. All crucial qualities needed to survive as an incognito American. Through its initiative Yo Soy Mexico which was started by MATT, the program assesses the skills and labor capabilities of returning immigrants and matches them with job, education and investment opportunities, aiding a successful return home. Although this time it is a much safer journey across the border, it is still an indubitable hardship. In the longer view, they'll help both countries in the North American region better understand one another, perhaps leading to better public policy.