Why Do People Emigrate?

I’m an immigrant. And my husband was an immigrant when we met. And nearly all of my close friends here are immigrants. And many of my friends back in the US are immigrants. And so, as you can imagine, in my house we often discuss why people cross international borders to live in a foreign country.

Life as an immigrant is not easy, not here in Mexico and not in the number one immigrant destination in the world, the US. As an immigrant you stick out, everywhere you go, especially if you don’t speak the language fluently. Sometimes you might seem exotic or sexy or interesting to the natives of your new chosen land. But often you are treated as an outsider, you are a target for crime, and an easy target for the cops; you are forever removed from the culture, not privy to the inside joke.

If you qualify to live in your chosen country legally then life is easier. Being illegal grates on you, it makes it impossible to ever fully relax. When you are illegal you can’t easily rent a place to live, you can’t buy property, you usually can’t work in your own profession, you have trouble establishing credit, you may have trouble registering a car, and you can’t travel. It’s easy to tell the people who live somewhere illegally, the rule is that if they are not broke, and don’t travel home to see family then they are illegal. The exceptions come when their home country is so far away that plane tickets are ridiculously expensive, or when their family is nuts, or dead.

Some people put up well with being illegal, and when they do you have to wonder what the hell they ran away from. Because being illegal sucks, so if they can be happy that way then what they came from was worse.

I have friends who are illegal, lots of them here, and also back in the States. And I have slightly more friends who are legal in both places.

So why did my friends emigrate? Commonly the women moved because their husband got an important job in a new country. And sometimes the women moved because they needed to escape intense care-taking duties. In fact I know several women who moved here to Mexico to escape raising children that belong to their mentally unstable or substance addicted sisters.

I know people who’s spouses can’t get permission to live in their countries, so they chose to move to their spouse’s home country. I know people who moved to the US because they would make more money working in a kitchen there than staying in their home country and working in the profession they are trained for. I know people who moved here to Mexico to hide from something in their home country, be it child support payments, crazy relatives, a warrant, a stalker, a husband, an addiction. Everyone has a reason. And when they tell you that they “just love the beach” or “wanted a change” that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

But what’s most disturbing to me are not the people who are skipping out on child support or running from a bad divorce. What stops me in my tracks are the stories of immigrants who are escaping real persecution in their home countries.

Recently there has been talk of a small wave of immigrants coming to Cancun, who are coming from Eritrea. All of the cases I have heard of are men, young men, men who were once soldiers in the army there. They come saying that if they are forced to return to their country they will be shot. They come having deserted the army there. They have made their way across Europe, then they come here. And they try to get into Mexico, hoping to cross Mexico and sneak into the US I guess. And it doesn’t work, they screw it up. And they become desperate.

The stories range from a guy who fought off 5 men who tried to force him onto a plane back, to a guy who tried to commit suicide when they put him on a plane back. These people know beyond doubt that going back is worse than anything that could happen to them here. I can’t imagine what kind of hell these people live with, that they prefer being detained in Mexico to “going home”. As my husband always says “everyone has a reason”, but some reasons are better than others.

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