In August 2021, more than three decades after sneaking across the southern border as young adults to work and support their families in Mexico, Irma and Javier Hernandez checked in at La Guardia Airport for a one-way flight from New York to Oaxaca. They were leaving behind four American children, stable jobs where they were valued employees and a country they had grown to love.

But after years of living in the United States without legal status, the couple had decided it was time to return to their homeland. Ms. Hernandez’s mother was 91, and they feared she might die — as Ms. Hernandez’s father and in-laws did — before they saw each other again. With dollar savings, they had built a little house, where they could live, and had invested in a tortilleria, which they could run. Their children, now young adults, could fend for themselves.

“Only God knows how hard we worked day after day in New York,” said Ms. Hernandez, 57. “We are still young enough that we could have kept going there, but ultimately we made the difficult choice to return.”

The Hernandezes are part of a wave of immigrants who have been leaving the United States and returning to their countries of origin in recent years, often after spending most of their lives toiling as undocumented workers. Some of them never intended to remain in the United States but said that the cost and danger of crossing the border kept them here once they had arrived — and they built lives. Now, middle-aged and still able-bodied, many are making a reverse migration.


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