- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 17, 2008


After going months without a full-time job, Daniel Ramirez has decided it’s time to return to family in Mexico. Vicenta Rodriguez Lopez says she can’t afford to live in Colorado any more because her husband was deported.

Roberto Espinoza is going back, too. After 18 years as a mechanic for a General Motors dealership in Denver, his work permit wasn’t renewed, and he didn’t want to remain in the country illegally.

All are leaving Colorado in time for Christmas, joining a traditional holiday migration that will number almost 1 million people, says Mexico’s Interior Ministry. But they have no intention of returning to Colorado, a place that promised prosperity.

Layoffs, dwindling job opportunities, anti-immigrant sentiment and the crackdown on illegal immigrants are forcing hard choices on many Mexican nationals in Colorado. Though not an exodus, some are returning to a nation they haven’t seen in years.

“You despair. You think, ‘I used to earn $600 a week, and now I’m getting half of that a week?’” said Mr. Ramirez, 38, who lost his Denver construction job in August. He left last week, driving to San Luis Potosi in central Mexico.

Mexico’s consul general in Denver, Eduardo Arnal, said more people like Mr. Ramirez are going home for good.

He cites a rise in applications for import-tax exemptions by Mexican nationals bringing home their belongings. The consulate hasn’t compiled statistics for 2008, but says it receives about three applications a day, compared to one per week in 2007.

“We’ve seen an increase in this service, which implies that there’s a tendency among a larger number of Mexicans who are returning home definitively,” Mr. Arnal said in an interview in Spanish.

Nationally, 1,809 Mexican immigrants filed for the exemption between January and August, compared to 1,447 the same period last year, a 25 percent increase, according to Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

That’s hardly an indicator of reverse migration, said Carlos Rico, Mexico’s undersecretary for North American affairs. Mr. Rico said what is known is that Mexicans are moving to other U.S. states - often places that historically have not seen a large population of Mexicans. They include North Carolina, Georgia, Idaho and Alaska, he said.

Whether for economic or anti-immigrant reasons, Mr. Rico said, “People are looking for alternatives within the United States.”

An estimated 243,253 Mexicans lived in Colorado in 2007, down from 254,844 in 2006, according to the Census Bureau. The state’s construction industry, a traditional source of employment for Mexicans, is contracting, and University of Colorado economists expect the state to lose 11,200 construction jobs next year.

Nationally, remittances to Mexico are down, as is Mexican emigration to the U.S.

August remittances totaled $1.9 billion, down 12 percent from August 2007, Mexico’s Central Bank says. It’s the first drop since the bank began tracking remittances in 1996.

Mexico’s National Statistics and Geography Institute estimates that 814,000 Mexicans emigrated to the U.S. in 2006, compared with 1.2 million in 2007.

Mr. Arnal noted that Mexico’s economy is growing, albeit modestly. Mexico’s Treasury Department reported a 1.7 percent growth rate for the third quarter and forecasts 2 percent growth for the year.

But hard times, not tepid growth back home, are prompting some Colorado Mexicans to leave.

Mr. Espinoza said the recession’s onset took him by surprise. He’ll be seeing his country for the first time in nearly two decades.

“I miss my country,” said Mr. Espinoza, 34, who is returning to Guadalajara, Jalisco.

Mrs. Rodriguez lives in Severance, about 60 miles north of Denver. She’s leaving for the Mexican state of Sinaloa after 15 years because her husband, who worked at a ranch dairy, was deported for being here illegally.

“He told me to pack up everything,” Mrs. Rodriguez, 40, said in Spanish. “We’re not young anymore.”

Her 21-year-old son, also in the country illegally, plans on staying.

Jesus Luna, 30, is returning to Puebla with his wife and two children after nearly four years in Colorado Springs. His reasons aren’t entirely economic. His parents are ailing. Packing things he said have been so easily accumulated here - bikes, toys, a washer and other appliances - he will be driving nearly 40 hours to arrive in time for Christmas parties.

“You know how it is - eating and more eating,” he said, smiling.

Still others return on their own terms, having accrued the wealth to let them live their dreams in Mexico.

“I can’t complain. I have a job, and I am able to come back if I want,” said Gustavo Camacho, 43, who works for a firm digging trenches for electrical cables in Denver.

Mr. Camacho, who is from Jalisco, has been here twice, from 1999 to 2003 and again since 2005. The first time, he saved enough money for a house in Jalisco. This time, he has enough to start a business - either a car-repair shop or selling food on the street.

He wants his six children to grow up in Mexico, where he thinks family values are stronger.

“I’ll miss it,” Mr. Camacho said about his time in Colorado. “But you always miss something, whether you’re here or in Mexico.

“I might even miss the weather.”

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