Immigrants in Their Parental Homeland: Half a Million U.S.-born Minors Settle Throughout Mexico


In the past 10 years, a historical change occurred in migration flows within North America: specifically, Mexico–U.S. migration reached zero net migration. Alongside Mexican adults returning to their homeland was an unprecedented number of U.S.-born minors. Little is known about this massive migration of U.S. citizen children. We analyze Mexican census data from 2000 to 2015 to estimate the size and characteristics of the population of U.S.-born minors residing in Mexico. Between 2000 and 2010, the population of U.S.-born minors doubled to more than half a million. The population stabilized, aged, and became longer-term Mexican residents thereafter. The large majority of U.S.-born minors are primary school–aged. Although concentrated in the northern border and traditional migrant-sending regions, U.S.-born minors are distributed throughout Mexico. The majority of U.S.-born minors live in Mexico with two Mexican-born parents, but one-third are separated from one or both parents, and most of those separated from parents reside with grandparents. We interpret these trends in reference to the determinants of Mexico–U.S. migration, transnational and mixed-status families, and the future spatial and social mobility of U.S.-born minors living in Mexico.

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  1. 1.

    The 2009 and 2014 ENADID data are representative at the national, rural-urban, and state level. However, the ENADID samples of U.S.-born minors are small (1,571 in 2009 and 1,865 in 2014).

  2. 2.

    Regional boundaries are displayed in the lower-left map of Fig. 3 and are defined in the figure’s note.

  3. 3.

    Father absence is more common: in 2010, 34.4 % of U.S.-born minors were not living with their father, and 11.6 % were not living with their mother (31.3 % and 10 %, respectively, in 2015).


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This research was supported by a grant from SEDESOL-Conacyt (Award Number 2017-01-292077) and by UC MEXUS-Conacyt (Award Number CN-18-211). The authors are solely responsible for the content. We appreciate the comments and suggestions from the anonymous reviewers. We would like to thank Natalia Oropeza for her research assistance, and Víctor M. García-Guerrero for his guidance on data visualization.

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Correspondence to Claudia Masferrer.

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Masferrer, C., Hamilton, E.R. & Denier, N. Immigrants in Their Parental Homeland: Half a Million U.S.-born Minors Settle Throughout Mexico. Demography 56, 1453–1461 (2019).

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  • U.S.-born minors
  • U.S.–Mexico migration
  • Child migration
  • Return migration