BOTH SIDES OF BORDER ARE FEELING THE IMPACT
New laws, plummeting economy are making it more difficult for immigrants to get, keep jobs
Sandra Rivas is storing furniture for her niece, who was forced to move in with her in-laws because of the economic downturn. She's loaned grocery money to two brothers who lost their construction jobs.
"It breaks my heart every time they say they have nothing in the fridge," says Rivas, 47, who is a social worker.
Her predicament is common these days among Mexican immigrant families in which relatives move to the United States and often rely on them for support - an obligation that has become more difficult.
Rivas came to the United States legally 20 years ago and helped her siblings and other relatives wanting to live and work here.
After losing her job two months ago, Rivas is trying to help her family members who are struggling with new laws that have made it more difficult to find and keep jobs.
Despite predictions that tough new work laws and economic woes in the United States would force foreign workers to return to their native countries, many - like some of Rivas' relatives - are trying to stay.
Hard times here have spread across the border, and jobs in Mexico - already scarce - have all but dried up.
The illegal-immigrant population in the United States declined from 12.5 million to 11.2 million in the past year, says a report released in July by the Center for Immigration Studies, an independent non-profit organization devoted to research and policy analysis of the impacts of immigration on the United States. The economy and immigration enforcement are both factors, the report says.
But other reports question that. There is some "anecdotal evidence that return migration to some countries, including Mexico, appears to have increased," says a report from the Migration Policy Institute(MPI), but this evidence cannot be tied definitively to U.S. economic conditions or to tougher enforcement of immigration laws, the report says.
"With enforcement differing from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, selective enforcement strategies are likely to first divert unauthorized immigrants to other destinations within the United States where economic opportunities exist rather than induce them to leave the country," the report says.
Judy Gans, program manager for immigration policy at the University of Arizona's Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy said illegal immigrants are leaving, "but it is not yet clear whether they are returning to their home countries or relocating to other parts of the United States."
Gans, who has begun the task of measuring the impact of the Legal Arizona Workers Act on the state's economy, says illegal immigrants may resort to informal ways of making money that would go unreported and un-taxed.
So far, the number of workers headed to Mexico from Arizona appears to be small. The number of families requesting transcripts to transfer their children to Mexican schools went from 145 in 2007 to 647 in 2008, but there is no evidence of a massive return of workers, says Juan Manuel Calderón Jaimes, Mexican consul in Tucson.
The Mexican government prepared for large numbers of workers leaving Arizona last year, but it didn't happen, says Enrique Flores López, director of the state migrant advocacy department in Sonora.
"Last year we had between 600 and 700 immigrants per day going back through Mariposa," he says. "This year we have about 200 and a similar number in Agua Prieta and Naco."
"They are waiting for U.S. immigration reform," López says. "If things are bad in the U.S., things are bad in Mexico, too. If that's the case, they prefer to face the crisis in the U.S."
Meanwhile, he says, all indications are that the flow of people heading into the U.S. continues.
Mexican officials and advocates who deal with the immigration community say that people are doing whatever it takes to remain in the United States.
Seventy-six percent of Latinos and 84 percent of foreign-born Latinos say their personal finances are fair or poor, compared to 63 percent for the general U.S. population, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center.
The report also shows that more than one in four Latinos helped a family member or a friend with a loan during the past year.
"About 28 percent said they have made a loan. That's a pretty large number," says Mark Hugo López, the Pew Hispanic Center's associate director.
Rivas lent money to relatives and doesn't anticipate being repaid.
"I lent about $500 to one of my brothers months ago. And I've lent them $20 to buy gas or some other stuff," says Rivas, who has been spending her savings and income from a rental house she and her husband own.
As with other immigrants, Rivas' family is willing to do anything to stay in the United States.
That includes taking informal jobs, working under dangerous conditions and going to extraordinary lengths to remain employed, she says.
Rivas' sister, who works at a day-care center, is working 12 hours a day because her husband lost his construction job.
"It's not that easy to go back (to Mexico)," she says.
The impact is being felt in Mexico. Banco de México announced that immigrants sent about $931million less in 2008 than 2007. Remittances are the second biggest source of income for Mexico.
However difficult it may be for Mexican workers to find jobs in the United States, Flores López thinks this is Mexico's problem, not the U.S. government's problem.
Mexico is where "more jobs should be created so people don't have to leave," he says.
With or without a job, Rivas says, she will not give up, and while she looks for a job, she plans to keep educating illegal immigrants about their rights, especially those who have been affected by the Employer Sanction Law, which puts businesses that hire illegal workers at risk of losing their business licenses.
"I thought we all were going to be doing great. I thought we all were going to succeed," says Rivas. "I thought if I made it, they would make it, too. But it's been difficult."