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Home again in Mexico: Illegal immigration hits net zero

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As their quality of life deteriorated, Pedro started hearing about changes in Tamaula: There was electricity, a high school, access to water. Though his children were thriving, he figured they were still young enough to uproot willingly. He wanted them to connect with their roots and see how hard life is in Mexico. They could later decide if they wanted to return to the US as legal citizens.

With their savings, the couple moved into a tidy, stone-walled home they'd been slowly constructing in Tamaula over the years. They knew they'd give up the security of paychecks, but they could grow their own food, raise goats for milk and cheese, and forgo rent and expensive energy bills.

When the family crossed the border in a van from Brownsville, Texas, in June, near where Pedro sneaked across the Rio Grande illegally in 1992 at night, it was the first time the children had ever stepped on Mexican soil.

It's been up and down, says Pedro: "I ask myself all the time if this was the right decision."

'American dream' no longer the standard

Guanajuato – an agricultural state in Central Mexico – has been a typical emigration state and in the past five years has become the biggest source of Mexican migrants to the US. As such, it also has one of the highest rates of return, census figures show.

Of Tamaula's 100 men, about 10 have returned since 2007 – some willingly, like Pedro, and others because they lost jobs or didn't get guest-worker visas and are no longer willing to go north illegally.

Not a single person interviewed in Tamaula said he or she would go illegally today. One of them is Jorge Laguna, a cousin of Pedro's in Tamaula, a town made up of three extended families. He'd traveled annually to the US since 2005 as a temporary guest worker to toil as a gardener in Washington State, but this year he wasn't asked back.

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