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September 8, 2008

Illegal immigrants voluntarily going back to Mexico as US economy crashes

By John Martin

Illegal immigrants are voluntarily leaving the United States and returning to Mexico and South America in record numbers as the U.S. economy provides few opportunities.


How bad is the economy in the United States? So bad that illegal immigrants are leaving this country and returning to Mexico in record numbers. Even the number of Mexicans wishing to enter the United States has dropped dramatically as indicated by the number of apprehensions by the U.S. Border Patrol. Arrests have fallen by as much as 20 percent compared to last year despite increased surveillance and enforcement.

With the devastating economic downturn in the housing market, immigrant workers are no longer in great demand and job opportunities are quickly drying up. Immigrant workers are choosing to go home rather than wait for an economic rebound as analysts predict a prolonged housing slump. Construction labor that would come from home remodeling, painting and landscaping is no longer plentiful as only the few well-off Americans have the necessary disposable income to spend on such projects.

"They don't migrate if they are not assured a job when they get to the United States," said Wayne Cornelius, Director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California at San Diego. "For unattached males with no economic base in the U.S. and no prospects for stable employment, it may make sense to go home and try their luck again when the U.S. economy improves," he added.

Immigrant workers are also sending less money home. The Mexican central bank reported that remittances from the United States have fallen since the start of the year.

Benito Ramos is one such illegal immigrant who has been impacted by the economic slowdown. After living in the United States for nearly a decade, he is going back to Mexico to live in a tiny home.

"You can't survive like before," said Ramos.

At one time, Ramos worked two jobs that earned him over $500 a week. But for months, his work schedule has been almost non-existent. He's lucky if he can make $100 a week today.

"It got to the point where you can't pay rent, you can't pay the bills," he said.

Ramos recently bought a one way bus ticket and joined thousands of other illegal immigrants going back to Mexico because the current economic climate in the U.S. has not only ruined the construction industry, but the retail and even the low wage service fields. No one is certain about the total size of the mass exodus back to Mexico. But, one group says the undocumented population has voluntarily left the United States by an incredible, whopping 11 percent (almost one and half million immigrants) in just the past 12 months alone.

Otoniel Cortez is a day laborer who has decided to leave the United States and return to his native Guatemala. At one time, he was able to earn several hundred dollars a week. Not anymore. In the past four months, he's only worked a single day.

"I don't want to go back, but there is no work," said Lopez, 18. "It's better to be with my family, even though we don't have much."

Alma Carvajal, the Director at El Expreso bus terminal in Plant City, Florida noticed a rise in business two years ago. That's when more people started buying one-way tickets to Mexico. Since then, business has climbed by 50 percent.

"Three years ago, it was only full on weekends," she said referring to her bus that leaves daily for Mexico. "But today, every day it's full." Since January, most of the passengers have been immigrants headed home to stay.

Jeffrey Passel, Senior Demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington-based research organization, is preparing a report about the recent drop in undocumented migration, which had been growing by 500,000 people a year since 2000. Those days appear to be over.

"What almost certainly has happened is that fewer people are coming and more people are leaving," Passel said. "It's possible that the (overall population) numbers could be decreasing."

Benito Ramos sizes up the current economic crisis in the United States succinctly. When asked when he might return to our country to find work, he answered: "Maybe in two or three years."

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