Why you should care
Oh, the irony: There’s an influx of Americans living happily south of the U.S. border. Perhaps they should leave.
As Mexicans and Central Americans line up in Tijuana, crashing in squalid camps and considering paying human smugglers as they wait for their chance to live the American dream, it’s hard not to find some irony in a different migrant flow, this one heading south.
It seems unfair, given today’s wall-centric politics, but more and more Americans are looking for a better life south of the border and are setting themselves up in Mexico. And they’re doing so without any of the bureaucratic obstacles that Latin Americans setting their sights on the United States face.
President Donald Trump insists on the need for a stronger border wall and criminalizes some of the migrants heading to the United States from Mexico and other nations such as Honduras. Yet there are an estimated 1.5 million Americans now living in Mexico, according to Lori Smith, a representative for the Democrats Abroad organization.
My cunning plan? Send them all home, just to make a point.
Americans in Mexico are the largest diaspora of “gringos” (as they are known in Mexico) living outside of the United States and tend to be more Democrats than Republicans. Most expats I spoke with said they’ve seen the flow of Americans south increase year by year.
One could argue that Mexico has every right to send Americans home …
“My impression is that a lot of young professionals come here because of the rise of freelancing and their lack of social benefits [in the United States]. Mexico City is an amazing city, and they get paid in dollars,” said Smith. As Mexicans and Central Americas seek a better life in the United States, Americans are improving the quality of theirs by moving to Mexico. The quality and cost of living, as well as the climate and availability of decent healthcare, tend to be the main motivators for why Mexico is an attractive option to Americans looking to bring down the cost of living and improve their quality of life.
Not only that, but Smith suspects many of them may be living here without the right papers. Ironic, isn’t it?
“A lot of US migrants here are undocumented and overstay their visitor visas. But you just have to pay a fine for overstaying that and people who want to renew them can just leave and re-enter,” she explained. Overstaying a visitor visa amounts to little more than a (financial) slap on the wrist — there seems little risk of arrest and deportation to the United States.
In part, this strong contrast reflects the difference in financial solvency between these different sets of migrant flows. Americans coming south are often working on U.S.-based projects and earning U.S. dollars, or they’re retirees looking to invest their hard-earned savings in relatively inexpensive real estate. The migrants we see walking through the region and gathering at the United States border in Mexico, on the other hand, are generally poor, destitute and feel they have little option but to leave their often-violent communities.
One could argue that Mexico has every right to send Americans home as Trump continues to vilify Mexico and Central American migrants who want to get into the United States. Yet Mexico is embracing them. As many migrants in the United States face down hostilities and animosities from some Americans, the experience of Americans here in Mexico tends to be quite different.
Steve Miller, a retired U.S. Air Force officer, has been living in Mexico on and off for the last 14 years with his wife near Lake Chapala. He says they tend to avoid talking politics with other Americans, even though most of them are also Democrats because it tends to end badly.
“I know very few people who have any negative feelings about the Mexicans or Mexicans in general,” says Miller.
“We all get on very well and there isn’t a shred of animosity, not a bit. We eat in Mexican restaurants, we eat Mexican food, most of our friends are Mexican or foreigners from other countries.”
Mexico is as popular with retirees as it is with working professionals, and Smith estimates that 400,000 of the 1.5 million Americans living in Mexico are retirees. There are huge American expat communities around the country in places such as San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato, Lake Chapala in Michoacán and Puerto Vallarta on the coast of Jalisco.
Laurette Spann Goss, 61, lives in Lake Chapala with her husband in a house they bought around a year ago and fixed up. “We have a pretty relaxed lifestyle here — it’s pretty amazing,” she said.
“The climate here is wonderful — I don’t need air conditioning or heat.”
Trump would do well to learn from Mexico’s example, and recent moves by new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to welcome migrants from south and north of Mexico’s borders.