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by Gardenia Mendoza Aguilar and Eileen Truax, Translated by Suzanne Manneh

U.S. Housing Woes Squeeze Immigrant Construction Workers

(PNS) -- Remittances to Mexico are down and people like Rosalinda Ortiz, who depend on money sent from the United States, are feeling the impact on their wallets. Ortiz's husband, an undocumented immigrant who worked as a bricklayer in Wisconsin, stopped sending her money six months ago when he lost his job. Since then, he has traveled to various states in search of work: Illinois, Nevada, and even Texas, where he considered crossing the border back to Mexico.

To support herself and her three children, Ortiz opened a traveling quesadilla shop in her community north of the state of Guerrero, and earns 400 pesos a week -- the equivalent of $40 -- just enough to cover her family's basic expenses.

Most families that depend on remittances spend the money on food, medicine and their children's education. They can't afford to put money into savings toward building their own homes or other expenses.

"Mexico is addicted to and very dependent on remittances," asserted Rodolfo Garcia Zamora, developmental studies researcher at the Autonomous University of Zacatecas (UAZ).

According to the Bank of Mexico, 12.6 percent of the families residing in Mexico's municipalities receive money from the United States. Remittances are the second largest source of income for Mexico, behind oil exports.

In 2007, remittances flowing into Mexico reached a high of $23.98 billion, but the Bank of Mexico estimates that they declined by 2.2 percent in the first half of this year.

Additionally, an estimated 100,000 Mexicans have returned to their home communities so far this year as a result of their perilous economic and social situation in the United States, which may begin with the loss of a job, and end in detainment and deportation.

The drop in remittances to Mexico has prompted Mexican Secretary of the Interior Juan Camilo Mourino to urge Mexican nationals in the United States to keep sending money and invest in their home country.

"These are our people, our countrymen and their commitment to Mexico is vital to this country," he said. He also added that he plans to expand a social welfare program that seeks to develop Mexico's poorest communities and support Mexican migrants in the United States. "We must find ways to overcome this crisis," said Mourinio who explained that the large number of returnees plus the young people ready to enter the workforce are additional challenges for Mexico's economy.

Yet he said that the Mexican government has taken steps to prepare for the crisis, including tax incentives in marginalized communities, increased public spending and temporary employment programs for returning migrants.

Mourino spent the weekend in Los Angeles, where he met with Mexican migrant communities to exchange ideas and identify their greatest challenges.

But Mexican nationals in the United States did not react favorably to Mourino's call to action.

While they are willing to support their home country, migrants say they expect the same from their government.

One day laborer expressed his frustration with Mourino's speech, saying, "He wants us to send more money? Well, get us more jobs."

Raul Barrios, a construction worker in Los Angeles, added, "You send money depending on how your work is. If there's no work, you don't send any."

Last year, Barrios earned $2,000 a month. Now he earns $800 a month, sometimes less. "I know that remittances have fallen," he said. "They feel it there because the economy is bad there too. But whether it's a little or a lot, you send money to your family, no matter what the government says."

Efrain Jimenez says that it is good that the Mexican government recognizes that migrants can be part of the solution and Mexico's economic development, but added these words need to be followed by action, and the Mexican government needs to be consistent in its policy towards migrants.

"On the one hand, they are asking for our support; on the other hand, they aren't giving us the tools to invest," he said. Jimenez explained that if a migrant wants to invest in Mexico, the first thing required is a valid voter identification card and taxpayer registration, but these documents are not issued by Mexico's Consulate General.

"We want the United States to recognize our matricula consulares as our official IDs, but they don't in Mexico," he said. "There is no consistency. They want migrants to invest in Mexico, but we can't get a legal ID."

Alberto Aviles, of the Institute of Mexicans Abroad, agrees. "Here there are millions of migrants who are away from their families ... not to play a role that will benefit them, but to put some food to the table," he said.

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Albion Monitor   August 19, 2008   (

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