They grew up in the United States. They’re finding a better life abroad.

Daniel Arenas had one dream –  to go to college.

But he grew up in South Carolina, one of three states that bans undocumented immigrants from public colleges. And his family could not afford a private university education.

At the age of 18 and undocumented, he saw his dream dying in America.

So Arenas did what he says more young Mexicans who were raised in America should do: he went back to Mexico to attend college, graduating in 2011 with a degree in international relations from Monterrey Institute of Technology in Monterrey, Mexico.

MORE COVERAGE: American dream. Mexican nightmare. A Michigan mom’s life after deportation.

MORE COVERAGE: Detroit deportee adjusts to Mexico’s poverty. “You can’t believe it”

Daniel Arenas, 28, grew up in South Carolina but returned to Mexico after high school in order to go to college. (Bridge photo by Chastity Pratt Dawsey)

“If you're not living in an ideal situation in the U.S., it's not OK to say, ‘I'm going to stay in the U.S. even if it's not working out for me,’” said Arenas, who lives in Leon, a city 240 miles north of Mexico City, where he works as an interpreter.

“People need options. Mexico is an option.”

As the clock ticks down on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that provides protections for undocumented youths, a perhaps surprising number of Mexicans are giving up on the United States and returning to Mexico, records show.

From 2009 to 2014, about 1 million Mexicans left the U.S. for Mexico –  some taking U.S.-born children with them – according to a study by the Pew Research Center, a Washington D.C. nonprofit think tank.

During that time, about 870,000 undocumented immigrants arrived in the United States from Mexico, Pew estimates.

The self-deportees are people like Jose Manuel Torres Sanchez, 23, who was brought over the border with his family when he was 5 years-old. He grew up in Georgia, served on his school’s student council and football team and dreamed of working for Google.

He had to find new dreams when his father was deported in 2011 after he was arrested for driving without a license. When his father fell into a diabetic coma months later, Sanchez, his mother and brother sold everything and moved to Mexico City.

Jose Manuel Torres Sanchez, 23, arrived in Georgia when he was five years old. His family moved back to Mexico City after his father was deported. (Detroit Public Television photo by Bill Kubota)

“There’s no such thing as an American Dream,” Sanchez said last month on a stroll through Mexico City’s thriving downtown.

“That American Dream is not only American, it can be Mexican. You can live that dream here because at the end of the day, it’s your purpose. It’s your dream.”

‘We’re prepared to help’

Since leaving the United States 10 years ago, Arenas started a nonprofit to help other returnees called Dream in Mexico.

The group helps returning residents identify job leads and scholarships such as the Reconocer program at the University of Monterrey that pays for college for young Mexican and Central American immigrants who live in the United States but are unable to go to college there.

“Our organization was able to think ahead six years ago, that maybe there would be people who needed to come back,”  Arenas said. “And now we're seeing that that's been proven. And now we're prepared to help.”

About 1.8 million undocumented immigrant youths in America do not have access to higher education or training opportunities and more than 70 percent of them are of Mexican descent, according to Dream in Mexico.

The number of people returning to Mexico could increase substantially if the U.S. Congress does nothing to save the DACA program that expires March 5. The program provides protection for undocumented young adults, known as “Dreamers,” who were brought to America as minors and do not have have felonies or serious misdemeanors on their records.

Some 800,000 DACA recipients, including about 6,400 in Michigan and 618,000 who are from Mexico, may face deportation because President Donald Trump announced that DACA will expire on March 5 and the deportation protection will be phased out over two years.

After that, about 1,000 Dreamers per day will lose their DACA protection from deportation, according to the Center for American Progress, a progressive policy research organization based in Washington, D.C.

Sanchez volunteers with the Dream in Mexico group and has become a promoter of sorts for Mexico after returning to the country in 2011. That was the year before then-U.S. President Barack Obama announced the DACA program.

Sanchez watched the announcement on television.

“I felt empty. I thought, ‘Why didn’t (DACA) happen for me? It was a sad moment,” Sanchez said.

Mexico is known for its poverty, but the economy is growing more than expected. And while it may take more time to get ahead in Mexico than in the U.S., success  depends on  “your hustle and grind,” said Sanchez who is working with friends to start a technology business in Mexico.

“In the U.S., I might have to work 40 hours a week in order to get a good wage, in order to start my (business.) But here I might have to work 80 hours,” he said.  “It’s all determination. …  Next thing you know, you can be living like you do in the states.”

After Trump announced the the pending end to DACA, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said he will welcome Dreamers back to Mexico with financial support and he plans to help them contribute to the “social and national economy.”

Sanchez understands the idea of returning to Mexico is not for everyone, especially those who may have to return to a part of Mexico that is gripped by deep poverty.

But education and bilingual skills learned in the U.S. give Dreamers the chance to make a good living in Mexico without fear of deportation, Sanchez said.

“With DACA, you have your problems solved short term, but in the long term you have nothing,” Sanchez said.

“This is yours forever.”

Brain drain

U.S immigration policies also are prompting some Mexicans who were educated in America to seek opportunities in other countries.

David Cruz Hernandez, 28, is a molecular biologist who was educated in the United States. In September, he headed to a research job at the prestigious Oxford University in the United Kingdom because he said he couldn’t land the federally funded research job he wanted in the U.S. because he was an undocumented immigrant.

Hernandez was 16 when he crossed the border by himself to meet his parents, who had sneaked over from Mexico earlier and settled California’s Bay Area. His family had left a life of farming and making mezcal, an agave liquor similar to tequila, to pick berries in Santa Cruz County.

Hernandez spent 12 years studying in California. He  finished high school, went to community college and then onto four-year universities, earning bachelor’s degrees in molecular biology and chemistry and a master’s degree in stem cell biology from San Francisco State University.

Hernandez said the world opened to him once he decided he couldn’t get the job he wanted in the United States.

En route to Oxford, Hernandez returned to his family’s native rural region of Ecatepec, Mexico, and spent a month with relatives before heading to Oxford.

At Oxford University in Oxford, England, he will work as a research scientist studying leukemia. He has a two-year work visa and plans to apply to Oxford’s doctoral program.

If Hernandez had applied for DACA protections, he would’ve been able to get a U.S. work permit. But he was too old by two months to apply for the program when it was introduced in 2012.

DACA, Hernandez said, may be helpful to some, but it is nothing to stake your life to because it’s only a two-year, temporary permit that does not provide a path to permanent residency.

David Cruz Hernandez, 28, is a molecular biologist. Unable to get a research job in his field, he left the U.S. this year to work at Oxford University. (Detroit Public Television photo by Bill Kubota)

“It was based on an executive order,” he said. “As easy as it came, it can go.”

He said it wasn’t easy to leave behind his family for another country he doesn’t know, but sometimes it’s necessary to leave America to follow a dream.

“It broke my heart, my family is there,” Hernandez said. “But I did this before.”

More on MiWeek

Watch Bridge Magazine reporter Chastity Pratt Dawsey and Detroit Public Television senior producer Bill Kubota discuss this story on MiWeek on DPTV.

It airs 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 5:30 a.m. Friday and 9 am. Sunday on 56.1 DPTV-HD, and 6 p.m. Saturday and 5:30 p.m. Sunday on 56.4 DPTV World Channel.

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Kevin Grand
Thu, 11/02/2017 - 1:02pm

For a number of allegedly well educated individuals, why is there no talk of actually entering America legally?

Just letting oneself into another country isn't exactly going to endear citizens into allowing them to stay.

And exactly what does Mrs. Dawsey say to those who do follow our laws and follow the legal path to enter our country?

Why are you wasting your time?

Why don't you ust throw a temper tantrum like the DREAMers and their supporters have been doing and wait for the politicians in Washington to cave?

She always side-steps that very important question.

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 1:34pm

Those who are returning will be the winners. America will be the losers. So when Trump is done deporting everyone, his followers without jobs will run right out to claim the jobs left behind. NOT! Who will be the next scapegoat?

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 7:29pm

Mary, american's tax dollars have been spent on medical care, education, food, legal assistance, dental care, etc for undocumented influx of people who wanted the generous hand outs. We don't give US citizens such benefits; our veterans fill homeless shelters, wait long, long periods of time to get needed medical/psycho-logical services that they earned-don't you agree Mary? Most folks are paying hefty deductbles/co-pays for their medical insurance, while undocumented folks get their medical needs free of charge. My grandson recently had emergency surgury for compound fracture of his arm. The bill was $46,000. My son and his wife (they have two children) have a $6,000 co-pay. They sure could use some of their tax dollars they paid out and funneled over to assist undocumented folks. Now you Mary, along with the ones who left their country, instead of standing up to try and make a better life for their families, less fortunate ones who can't run, can't illegally make it across boarder to snag a job in a hospital, doctor's office, restaurant, clothes store, janitorial type work; the jobs our kids entering the workforce and starting college should have available for them. How many undocumented folks that lived here for years talking about some american dream most americans have never found, how many enlisted in our military to defend this country that offered them benefits the citizens are forbidden to receive?? Spuing insults as the thank you for our tax dollars that made life a bit easier on folks who just helped themselves to a spot in our country and will hang until somthing better that won't cost them money, or put their life in danger daily workin the front line. I will thank the undocumented for freeing up some of our tax dollars for our use. If liberals want to assist anyone other than the citizens of this country, they can share their own paycheck every month. I bet if they can't gain a percentage of our tax dollars they want earmarked for their claimed cause, you can bet they won't spend their own money on any damn cause.

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 1:51pm

USA is like the Titanic. It is slowly sinking and leaving is actually a blessing in disguise for many. Your politics and president have made you the laughing stock of the world. So keep up with the good work of self destruction.

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 5:22pm

We are having a desperate shortage of labor in many areas which will not be filled by native born residents so will need be filled by non-native labor there is no doubt that a some near point we'll be recruiting workers from other nations. Whether those featured here have the skills we need can be debated, but what can't be is the concept of respect for the law without which we have very little.

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 8:11pm

It isn't a shortage of labor, it is a lack of people that have invested their time and effort in developing the in demand knowledge and skills. It is a lack of people with the understanding and willingness to practice the necessary work ethic. It is people lacking in the habit of work and the mindset that leads to work. It is a lack of economic/productivity to support raising wages to draw the necessary people from other employers.

The other side of this reality is that the low knowledge and skilled jobs are being replaced by technology. Have you seen the moving of the keyboard with pictured buttons and the card swipe from the drive thru window to the drive thru menu board, that is a low wage job that is disappearing that neither citizen or illegal immigrant will have.

The issues a,re do we need low skilled or high knowledge and skilled employees, and where will they come from. Are the illegal aliens the source or should they be homegrown people? You chose, then we have something common to work on and we can solve.

Sun, 11/05/2017 - 9:25am

I recently read that a small group is developing a robotic picker to work the fields and pick strawberries, which supposedly is a hard thing to do for a robot because of all the variables in whether or not to pick a particular berry. This group is well on their way to success. What the US needs is STEM educated people to come here legally and prosper. I believe Trump is on to something when he says he wants to make immigration merit based rather than quota based. What we do not need are immigrants with little or no education, who have to be supported and cared for.