Return migration has been a constant feature of Mexico–US migration patterns, but its characteristics have changed sharply with time. We use the Mexican censuses and counts of 1995, 2000, 2010, and the complete set of individual and household records of the 2005 Population Count to explore the demographic characteristics of returnees in the context of tighter border control and rising levels of forced return migration. Involuntary and therefore unplanned return is likely to mean greater difficulties of incorporation into the community of origin. The study of the effects of the militarization of the US–Mexico border on migration patterns has focused on the US side. We contribute to this literature by focusing on the Mexican side. We consider the intensity and type of previous migration to the US as compared to current return migration, and State of origin and destination. Our data suggest that particularly attractive destinations for returnees are border cities, prosperous communities and growing metropolitan areas. Findings suggest changes in the demographic composition and geographic distribution of returnees. The discordance between the patterns of outmigration and return is a telling indicator of changes in the overall migration relationship between Mexico and the US. The patterns for 2005 are also observed in 2010 even if the absolute number of inter-censal returnees increased threefold over the period. Finally, we argue that focusing on destinations of return instead of areas of emigration will contribute to a more comprehensive understanding on the nature of future return migration to Mexico and its policy implications.