Miguel Salazar, public affairs specialist for the Wilson Center’s Mexican Institute; Aracely Garcia-Granados, executive director for Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together; and Jorge Ayala, general coordinator for residents of the state of Jalisco living abroad, listen as Mexican Ambassador Eduardo Medina Mora speaks at the Wilson Center. The event focused on findings from a new study about return migration to Mexico. (Sara Olstad/Medill)

WASHINGTON – Most of the Mexican immigrants who leave the United States to return to their home country do so on their own terms, not as a result of deportation, according to a survey released Tuesday by the group, Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together.

Between 2005 and 2010, a record 1.4 million immigrants returned to Mexico from the United States.

Pew Hispanic Center data from April 2012 shows this was roughly double the number of Mexican migrants who left the United States during the previous five-year period. Pew estimated that between 5 percent and 35 percent of those returning were forced to leave the United States but  “firm data on this phenomenon are sketchy.”

The Mexican-American group, an organization that focuses on cultural and economic issues between the U.S. and Mexico, carried out its study in May and June of last year. The group interviewed 600 migrants who had returned to the Mexican state of Jalisco, located along the Pacific coast of  Mexico. All of them had spent at least one year in the U.S. – and approximately three-fourths of those surveyed had entered the United States illegally.

The margin of error for the data collected is estimated to be about 5 percent. The Mexican-American organization’s research, “The U.S. Mexico Cycle: The End of an Era,” is the first attempt to explain why increasing numbers of immigrants are choosing to return to Mexico independently, a fact that may surprise many Americans, said  MATT Executive Director Aracely Garcia-Granados.

“While many in the United States may believe that most Mexican migrants are forced to return to Mexico, the study showed that a full 89 percent chose to go home completely on their own. Only 11 percent reported deportation as a reason. When we saw this data, the 89 percent seemed very high,” she said.

The most common motivations the immigrants gave for leaving the United States centered on their families. For example, many simply missed their relatives while others felt compelled to go back to care for aging parents. In other cases, people went home to be with a family member who had been deported, said Garcia-Granados. During the interviews, many migrants also cited their nostalgia for Mexican culture and the difficulty of finding jobs in the United States as primary reasons for returning home.

Less than 2 percent of those surveyed mentioned anti-immigrant sentiments in the U.S. as a reason for leaving, which may be reflective of changing attitudes toward immigration.

“It’s extraordinary to see how the atmosphere in Washington and increasingly around the United States is changing on the question of immigration reform, maybe it’s not moving fast enough for many of us, but … there’s a focus now on ways in which there can be cooperation between different parties on the topic of immigration,” said Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The trend of reverse migration and the “cross-culturalization” associated with the movement of people across the border has had an impact Mexican society, according to Eduardo Medina Mora, the Mexican Ambassador to the United States. “When they go back [to Mexico], they carry the skills they learn, the abilities to actually do something different, a much more entrepreneurial sense of life,” he said in remarks at the event. “So immigration is a good thing.”