The rural areas of the poorest states in Mexico, notably Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero, and Zacatecas, have been depopulated over the past couple of decades by a massive emigration to the United States. Now, as the U.S. economy sinks and immigration controls tighten, many of those who hoped for a better life on the “other side” of the border are heading home. Mexico’s safety valve is experiencing a reverse flow for the first time since the 1950s when the U.S. ended the Bracero Program. Gabriel Hernández García, the Oaxacan state director of the national campesino organization Antorcha Campesino, says various communities of the Mixteca region of the state are experiencing a massive return of immigrants. The communities of the Tlaxiaco area are being hit particularly hard by this reverse diaspora. According to Hernández, the situation requires an emergency response plan but the phenomenon has the federal and state government totally unprepared. He said that the campo has been totally forgotten by the government, which caused thousands of fellow campesinos to emigrate but now the flow north has reversed itself – not because there is more opportunity in Oaxaca but simply because an increasing number of Oaxacan immigrants are no longer able to pay the rent or buy food in the United States. Compounding the crisis of this massive return of destitute immigrants is the continuing fall in remittances to these villages – creating crisis conditions in the Mixteca. The return of thousands of unemployed will likely intensify the tense political situation in Oaxaca, which has been rocked by protests and government crackdowns over the past few years.
Photo: Protest march in Oaxaca against PRI government.