December 22, 2008

Mexicans going – and staying – home. Illegal immigration decreasing!

Posted by D.A. King at 12:44 am - Email the author   Print This Post Print This Post  

Austin American Statesman ( Texas) – this was also in the AJC print version today, but I don’t see it online

Mexican migrants brave recession at home

As hard times hit and many return, jobs are limited.
By Jeremy Schwartz


Sunday, December 21, 2008

MOGOTES, Guanajuato — Since he was a young man, Santiago Mosqueda, 46, has traveled to Atlanta to find work, leaving behind the poverty of his desolate hometown.

But with the U.S. economy shrinking, Mosqueda has recently decided to try his luck at home, scraping by on $10 a day from construction work and odd jobs around town.

He has crunched the numbers, and it doesn’t make sense to return to the United States now.

“I need to know that if I return I will have a job,” said Mosqueda, standing waist deep in a muddy pit as he shoveled dirt on a government water project. “I’m not going to pay $3,000 (to a human smuggler) and risk jumping the border if there’s not going to be a job. If there’s nothing up there, it’s better to see how things go down here.”

Mosqueda is among a growing number of undocumented workers in the U.S. returning to Mexico.

Just how many migrants have returned to Mexico or will do so is a matter of debate among the experts. But most analysts agree on one assessment: Mexico isn’t prepared to absorb a significant number of returnees.

The same grinding poverty that’s been sending migrants north for decades stubbornly endures, particularly in rural areas. The job market remains moribund; the country has shed tens of thousands of jobs in recent months, and business groups are predicting just 170,000 new jobs for 2009 in a country where about 1 million young people enter the work force each year.

Officials in many parts of Mexico are scrambling to prepare economic stimulus projects for returning migrants. Experts worry that the government’s proposed anti-crisis plans are too little, too late.

The town of Mogotes, in the state of Guanajuato, is typical. Like countless communities in Mexico, it is dotted with expansive homes built with migrant money and trucks with license plates from Texas and Florida. But there is precious little work for returnees.

Manuel Quiroz, a 37-year-old former undocumented migrant, has been trying to squeeze out a living since returning home three years ago from Colorado. He manages to find work just a couple of days a week. He fears an influx of his countrymen.

“If the economy keeps going down, then those without papers will come back, and there will be less opportunity for jobs here,” he said. “There will be more people, more hunger and less jobs.”

Local officials say a large wave of returning workers from the U.S. would mean a significant increase in the number of residents working in the informal sector — selling clothes, tacos and pirated DVDs for cash on street corners and in markets.

“We’re not prepared,” said Eleazar Cardenas, secretary of Valle de Santiago, the municipality that includes Mogotes.

Experts say that in some ways Mexico is in a worse position today to receive migrants than it was during the Great Depression, when about 400,000 migrants returned or were deported to Mexico.

In the 1930s, Mexico was embarking on a modernization that included vast public works projects, the building of factories in northern areas and agrarian reform that gave land to dispossessed farmers.

This time, several Mexican states have rushed to implement programs that would spur rural job development and help returning migrants use their savings to start businesses (migrant money creates about 20 percent of new small businesses in Mexico).

Those most likely to return, experts say, are more recent immigrants, people without papers who haven’t had time to develop a network of friends and countrymen to help them find increasingly scarce jobs in the United States.

But the scope of the returning migration is difficult to measure.

Officials and analysts have warned of a flood of as many as 3 million returnees, but most experts expect the return to be far smaller. So far, local officials say a massive return hasn’t materialized but warn that numbers could grow depending on the depths of the global recession.

“From my point of view, the numbers will be directly related to the crisis in the U.S.,” said Fernando Robledo Martinez, the director of migrant affairs in Zacatecas, one of Mexico’s traditional migrant-sending states.

More established migrants in the U.S. — those with homes, kids in school and extensive social contacts — will view Mexico as a last option, academics say. Those long-term migrants will look for jobs in other industries or move to different states before they see returning home as a viable option.

“They will resist until the last moment,” said Miguel Moctezuma Longoria, an immigration expert at the National Autonomous University of Zacatecas . “The question is, what are they returning to if there are no options?”

Meanwhile, fewer would-be migrants are leaving Mexico. From 2005 to 2007, the number of people emigrating fell 32 percent, according to Mexican government census figures.

Manuel Ramirez Garcia, who has periodically migrated to the U.S. for 38 years, said he has begun warning young people in his small ranching community in the state of Guanajuato not to go north, at least for the time being.

Ramirez, a legal resident of Bakersfield, Calif., said that in recent months he’s seen undocumented immigrants in the U.S. squeezing into apartments in groups of 10 or 12 to save on rent and making just enough to eat. “I tell the kids that it’s worse than if they had stayed” in Mexico, he said.

Mexico is undergoing a demographic boom of young, working-age people that demographers say will last for another 20 years.

Although countries such as South Korea and Taiwan used similar demographics to power their economies in the 1970s, Mexico continues to view migration as a necessary safety valve, experts say.

But harnessing the power of migrants might be the best hope for Mexico’s struggling countryside, where more than half the people continue to live in poverty, according to government numbers.

In the central state of Hidalgo, half the residents who leave to find work are 24 to 34 years old. Experts say the young adults are more likely to return home.

Earlier this year, Hidalgo began a project in which the state government matches migrant investments in new businesses.

So far, more than 150 migrants have taken advantage of government loans, building a variety of businesses, including greenhouses, hotels and a plastics factory. The Hidalgo government also helps would-be business owners develop business plans and market studies.

Still, many say that Mexican migrants will continue to find their place in the United States.

Huber Quiroz, who returned to Mogotes last month when he lost his landscaping job in Colorado, said he believes that eventually he’ll find work on the other side.

The rest HERE