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US Expats in Mexico: Will We Be Thrown Out?

What will happen to Americans living in Mexico if the hostility toward Mexican-Americans is put into action?

Credit: Stephanie Batzer www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • A part of the population that has got no mention during the 2016 election campaign: US citizens living in Mexico.
  • The behavior of Mexican officials toward U.S. expatriates is bound to change if millions of Latinos in the US are routinely harassed.
  • What if the anti-Mexican rhetoric of the presidential campaign grows into greater mistreatment of Mexican people in the US?

A rather somber group of expatriates celebrated Thanksgiving together at a spectacular restaurant overlooking the small town in which we make our home in central Mexico.

Only two dozen of the several hundred Americans living in this pretty village in Michoacan state participated.

All of us are apprehensive about just how Donald Trump, the soon-to-be U.S. president, will go about implementing his aggressive statements toward Mexico and Mexicans. Nobody knows what to expect.

US citizens who live in Mexico

For all the hot exchanges during the just concluded 2016 campaign over immigration and North American economic integration we are part of a population that has got almost no mention: U.S. citizens who live in Mexico.

True, our fate is not likely to be as tragic as the millions of Latinos living in the United States who stand to suffer if Trump’s threats are carried out — mass deportation, seizures of remittances and stop-and-search tactics directed toward anyone suspected of being Latino. Still, we are anxious.

How many Americans are affected?

Quite amazingly, nobody knows exactly how many Americans live in Mexico. The U.S. State Department reports the number of one million.

Various categories of U.S. citizens in Mexico are so diverse that it is almost impossible to get solid alternative estimate. Let’s look at some examples:

My wife and I are retirees who live part of each year in a house we bought in Mexico. One of us is a permanent resident – useful for owning a bank account and a car in Mexico – the other travels here on a tourist visa (good for six months for each entry). So perhaps one of us would be counted among the one million.

Although many Americans, retirees especially, own houses and live in Mexico full time, others own Mexican homes but spend no more than a few days or weeks each year in them.

Many residents have tourist visas when they rent houses; they probably slip under the radar that looks for “Americans living in Mexico.”

American children of Mexican returnees from the U.S.

There also are Americans like the two teenage daughters of a local plumber. Rafael worked in Idaho for several years, where his daughters were born, and therefore they automatically are U.S. citizens. His family returned to our village when the girls were toddlers.

It is unlikely that these two American citizens ever will chose to live in the United States, but they probably are counted among the one million.

Some Mexican immigrants who became U.S. citizens take their retirement in Mexico; they certainly are part of the one million.

Paula and Arlo came to Mexico as environmental scientists in their twenties and have lived here ever since. Now they own a factory that makes artisanal furniture.

Their bilingual children were raised in Mexico; one has chosen to attend university in Mexico, the other in the United States.

Like many dual citizen residents of Mexico, members of this family must now ask whether they will be welcome to remain.

There are cities and towns in Mexico with big concentrations of resident expatriate Americans: in the central highlands, Mexico City, San Miguel De Allende, Ajijic, Cuernavaca and Oaxaca; by the sea, Baja California, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and the coastal towns of the Yucatan peninsula.

Populations of Americans in each of these places number in the thousands, not the hundreds, as in our little town.

There are dozens of other cities and towns in Mexico with their odd assortment of ten or a hundred or a thousand Americans living peacefully and happily.

In the maelstrom all of a sudden

Most members of the expatriate community in Mexico opposed Donald Trump.

They worry for the Mexican-Americans and Mexicans who may suffer the consequences of aggressive new policies in the United States.

Many also are beginning to fear what will happen to Americans living in Mexico if the threats of mass deportations and harassment of Latinos living within the law in the United States are carried out. Even the few Trump supporters here are anxious.

One recently inquired about buying a gun. He learned that this would be illegal for him in Mexico.

More tensions on the way?

Until now, we expatriate Americans have been treated very well by our Mexican neighbors, who are generally gracious and dignified, inclined to be not only polite but warm and friendly.

Of course, an element of reciprocity is at play here. Maria Teresa, our widowed neighbor, has four children (among her nine), who are living or have lived in the United States, and their contributions to their Mexican family are welcome and important.

She is grateful that her children have been mostly well treated in the United States. How will her attitude and the behavior of officials here in Mexico toward U.S. expatriates change, if millions of Latinos living in the United States are routinely harassed, arrested and deprived of their opportunity to send money home?

What will happen if the ugly xenophobia and anti-Mexican rhetoric of the presidential election campaign grows into greater mistreatment of people of Mexican origin in the United States? None of us knows.

But those who are making and enforcing immigration policy might bear in mind that the whole hemisphere and people of all national origins are likely to suffer, including us, the hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens living in Mexico.

Like Brexit?

An ocean away, following the Brexit vote, our concerns reflect many of the worries that Britons living in Europe (and vice versa) have on their minds all of a sudden, although the U.S. and Mexico never had a open migration for employment, as the EU has.

And we all thought – continental Europeans living in the UK or Americans living in Mexico — that such issues as where you can live peaceably and productively were a matter of the past.

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About Bernard Wasow

Bernard Wasow is Mexico based and a former professor of economics at New York University.

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