10:21 AM CDT on Tuesday, September 23, 2008
By LAURENCE ILIFF / The Dallas Morning News
DEMACÚ, Mexico – Luis Martínez went from being a successful Dallas businessman to a struggling alfalfa farmer in rural central Mexico because of a North Texas crackdown on illegal immigrants.
Now, that crackdown is squeezing towns across Mexico as immigrant unemployment grows in the U.S. and money sent home declines at a record rate.
Dallas deportee struggles to adapt to rural Mexico
The Oak Cliff resident of 20 years was deported after a traffic stop in Carrollton near his recycling workshop. Immigration officials said he had violated his residency by leaving the country without permission – to attend a funeral in Mexico – during the lengthy wait for his green card.
Now in the alfalfa fields of his boyhood, Mr. Martínez, 43, faces a fate similar to hundreds of thousands of his countrymen who have been deported or who returned home after losing their jobs: a massive loss of income.
"You make $10 an hour over there and $10 a day here in Mexico," said Mr. Martínez, who added that in addition to his recycling business he has Dallas property and pays U.S. taxes.
Graphic: Feeling the squeeze
Archive: Legal and illegal, Latinos labor to rebuild Texas after Hurricane Ike
Archive: Editorial: Illegal immigration won't fix itself
Archive: Illegal immigrants returning home in large numbers
Archive: Farmers Branch bans illegal immigrants from renting houses
A growing number of deportations, along with rising unemployment, are forcing Mexicans to further tighten their belts as remittances sent home dropped by nearly 7 percent in July compared with a year earlier. That's the biggest one-month fall on record as measured by Mexico's central bank.Although some analysts question how the remittances are measured and suggest some may have made it back to Mexico under the central bank's radar, they agree that the effects of immigrant unemployment and deportations are increasingly being felt from Dallas to Demacú.
"Hispanic unemployment is likely to go up all the way to December before it comes down," said Manuel Orozco, who is head of a remittance project at the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington.
Of the 500,000 Hispanics who have lost their jobs since January 2007, he estimates 60,000 are illegal immigrants from Mexico. Some have been forced to take jobs that pay much less. "I have interviewed migrants, and they tell me they lost a job in construction at $15 an hour and now are washing dishes for $7 an hour," he said.
Meanwhile, U.S. authorities are deporting Mexican immigrants at a rate not seen in 50 years, including more than 208,000 "removals" from the U.S. interior in the current fiscal year, which ends this month.
"Deportations are a serious matter that has an effect on the money flows [to home countries]," Mr. Orozco said.
Because about 90 percent of immigrant earnings stays in the U.S., the deportations and job losses affect both sides of the border, authorities say."It means that the money not being sent back is not being generated here," said David J. Molina, an economics professor at the University of North Texas. "To a large extent, I would argue that that slowdown is not good for either side of the border."
But some differ. Jean Towell, Dallas president of Citizens for Immigration Reform, said falling remittances illustrate two things.
"It does show that enforcement, plus the economy, are working together to make it harder for the illegal aliens to stay in the country," she said. "For the people who receive remittances, of course, it's a bad thing. They rely on that since their country doesn't seem to be able to take care of the economy well enough so that people have a sustained rate of living."
In Demacú and in Dallas, the tough times for immigrants in the U.S. are felt house by house.
While Mr. Martínez toils in alfalfa fields, his wife is in Dallas. In Demacú, his 82-year-old mother, Gregoria, used to receive a little money each month from a nephew, but that's gone. Mr. Martínez's sister Julia said she too has lost income from children in the U.S., but she's not sure if it's because of hard times or because they have gotten married and moved on with their lives. Another sister, Edith, said the children she teaches in elementary school depend on remittances from relatives in the U.S., but while the amount may have fallen, the money continues to flow like always, which encourages further immigration.
"These kids want to follow in the footsteps of their fathers – to leave, so they can build a house back home and have a car," she said.
Mr. Martínez said he is making the best of the family alfalfa business, looking for new markets and new ways to boost the slim profits. Maybe he'll be able to send money to the U.S. someday, he joked.
"I'm used to hard work, so it's not so bad," he said during a break from raking dry alfalfa into piles and lifting them into a truck. "Imagine if I had worked in an office."
And it's not just the lost money that he needs to put his daughters through school. It's his lost life in Dallas since his return to Mexico.
"It's very difficult. It's 20 years you have been gone, and when you come back, your friends are not here," Mr. Martínez said.
The stalled construction projects around Demacú are a clear sign, he said, that times are getting tougher for immigrants in the U.S.
"This town has maybe 50 or 60 young people that are working over there, and they have projects that are going on here, construction of houses and stuff like that, but because so many people there are being taken out of the country, it's affecting us a lot," said Mr. Martínez.
He called Dallas a city with "a small-town spirit" and the United States "a nation blessed by God." For those, and many other reasons, he is working his way back through the immigration service while hoping U.S. policies toward immigrants become more tolerant.
"We have hope something will happen in the U.S.A., something that can give us the opportunity to go back and keep working over there," he said. "I spent 20 years of my life in that country, so that means I am part of that country."