More Immigrant New Yorkers Looking to Return to Their Native Countries

Colombian-born José V. will return to his country. (Photo via El Diario)

Seven years ago, José V. left his bank teller job in Colombia and moved to New York, determined to stay. Debt and his family’s serious economic problems drove him to dream of having a better life, which he was unable to attain back home with his monthly pay of barely $350. Less than a week after arriving in the Big Apple, he got a job as a dishwasher which paid more and – in a matter of weeks – things began to look up for him.

“They promoted me to the floor as a busboy and raised my salary. I brought my wife and 2-year-old, and we started having a good life. Working hard, yes, but enjoying ourselves,” said the Colombia native in a nostalgic tone. “I was able to pay off my debt, help my parents, and we even bought a house in Bogota, which we have also paid off.”

Since November, however, things started to change for José and his family, and they have decided to move back to Colombia, citing their “mental health.”

“I know that Trump has talked and talked, and that – beyond his threats against immigrants – the truth is that not many real changes have taken place, but the anguish of knowing that he may decide at any moment to make it worse for us and leave us with nothing has made me sick and stressed out. My wife has had enough and she is very nervous, and even our marriage has started to suffer,” said José. “I love this country but, especially since January, its government has made me feel more ‘illegal,’ and, out of dignity and for the sake of our peace of mind, we would rather sell some things, pack the rest and move back next month.”

He admits that, since he and his wife made the decision, he has dived into his job, working seven-day weeks delivering food at a Manhattan restaurant in order to save as much as possible and “not go hungry” in Colombia while they and their 9-year-old – who is also very worried – settle there.

Even though many undocumented people have organized to fight and continue to lead normal lives in the city despite the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has been growing since Trump took office in the White House, others like José are fed up and would rather say goodbye to the “American dream.”

Consulates help them return

Officials from a number of Latin American consulates confirmed that, in the last few months, they have seen a stampede of actions and inquiries coming from immigrants considering returning to their countries.

Consul General of Colombia in New York María Isabel Nieto explained that, in her compatriots’ case, she has noticed that the return is already underway and that applications for information about available assistance to return to the country have increased more than 50 percent.

“We are seeing people going back, and in Colombia we have a law called the ‘Return Law,’ which assists Colombians living abroad for over three years in returning to the country with certain prerogatives and allowing them to send their belongings tax-free,” she said. “We do not know how many people end up returning, but many are coming here to find out more, and there has also been a big increase in registrations for double citizenship for children born [in the U.S.] particularly among people who do not have a regularized immigration status. This way, they can take their children with them easily if they are deported,” added the government official.

According to Consul General Linda Machuca, Ecuadoreans are seeing a similar situation. She recommended people from that country interested in returning find out about the assistance offered by their country’s government.

“The immigration announcements made by this administration have created uncertainty and alarm in our community, and we have felt that in the last few weeks, as many people have been talking about the possibility of returning,” said the diplomat, pointing out that applications pertaining to the return law and questions about immigration have tripled. For that reason, Ecuador has put a contingency plan in place to lend a hand to compatriots living in the United States.

“With the Organic Law on Human Mobility that the country’s government enacted nine years ago – known as ‘Welcome Home’ – we allow families to bring their belongings tax-free,” said the consul. She added that, in the last two months, passport applications for children of Ecuadorean parents have also increased dramatically.

Meanwhile, Carlos Gerardo Izzo, consul for press and public affairs for the Consulate of Mexico in New York, said that the surge did not begin when Trump was sworn in but, rather, has been taking place for a number of years now. He added that the Mexican government also offers assistance.

“One thing is for people to request information and another is for them to actually do it, but the inquiries for information about returning [to Mexico] have remained more or less steady,” said the government official.

“We have had the ‘We Are Mexican’ program for a while, which has been intensified with a number of agencies joining in, and the idea is to strengthen our policies regarding reinserting Mexican people who wish to return or who have to do so, to allow them to have a dignified and productive homecoming,” said Izzo, explaining that some of his compatriots have been taking measures to prepare for potential inconveniences.

“We have received more applications from people wishing to renew their Mexican documents and to obtain Mexican citizenship for their children born here as a result of the unease they feel due to the changes in the U.S.’ immigration policies,” he said, adding that the number of registrations doubled from 30 per day last year to 60.

Asking them to stay

With regard to the return plans some immigrants have set in motion, Ana María Archila, from The Center for Popular Democracy, said that, in order to fight, it is urgent to create a bigger movement.

“We all have to do what we believe is best to feel safe and protect our families, and I respect those decisions for people seeking security and peace of mind but, as a community, we must make ourselves more visible and bigger, not smaller and more invisible,” said the activist.

Carlos Menchaca, chair of the New York City Council’s Committee on Immigration, said that, while he has heard stories of some immigrants who are choosing to return, he is calling on people to stay.

“The American dream still lives in the hearts of many, and we need to follow that dream. We need to keep fighting because this has been and is their home, and it is important to believe in the power we possess,” said the council member.

Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, lamented that the actions of the current government are driving members of families to say goodbye to one another.

“It is a real tragedy and, if people are feeling that this is no longer a place for them, that is a loss. Hearing and seeing these stories is sad, and that is why we need to make at least the state and city of New York a better place so that they do not have to leave,” he added.

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