Mexican immigrants leaving California, going home - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Mexican immigrants leaving California, going home

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Posted: Monday, August 8, 2011 10:43 pm

There are fewer undocumented immigrants in California now because many are finding the American dream south of the border.

"It's now easier to buy homes on credit, find a job and access higher education in Mexico," said Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, Mexican consul general in Sacramento, Calif. "We have become a middle-class country."

Mexico's unemployment rate is 4.9 percent, compared with 9.4 percent joblessness in the United States.

An estimated 300,000 undocumented immigrants have left California since 2008, though the remaining 2.6 million still make up 7 percent of the population and 9 percent of the labor force, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

The best-paid jobs for undocumented migrants are in the building industry, "and because of the severe crisis in the construction business here, their first response has been to move into the service industry," Gonzalez Gutierrez said. "But that has its limits. Then, they move to other areas in the U.S. to find better jobs -- or back to Mexico."

Laura Hill, a demographer with the Public Policy Institute, said it's hard to know whether the benefit of having fewer undocumented migrants outweighs the cost to employers and taxpayers.

States may have to provide less free education to the children of undocumented immigrants and less emergency medical care, she said, but they also will get less tax revenue.

In 2008, at least 836,100 undocumented immigrants filed U.S. tax returns in California using tax identification numbers known as I-10s, said Hill, who conducted the tax survey.

Some immigrants aren't sticking around for the upcoming tomato harvest, said Sylvina Frausto, secretary of Holy Rosary Church in Woodland, Calif. "Some have a small parcel in Mexico. They own their own home there, so instead of renting here they go back to their small business there."

Many raise animals, run grocery stores or sell fruits and goods on street corners.

"They're going back home because they can't get medical help or government assistance anymore," Frausto said, "And when it's getting so difficult for them to find a job without proper documentation, it's pushing them away."

Anita Barnes, director of La Familia Counseling Center in Sacramento, said she recently spoke to a high school graduate who had lost his job in a restaurant and was thinking of going back to Mexico.

"He came over with his mom, who was in the process of losing her restaurant job," Barnes said. "It's frightening, especially for the children. They feel this is their country, they don't know anything else, and they find they can't get driver's licenses or jobs."

As its economy rebounds, Mexico "is becoming a better option than it was in the past, but you still have to find a job and reconnect," Barnes said.

While the weakened U.S. economy, rising deportations and tougher border enforcement have led to fewer undocumented migrants, changes in Mexico also are playing a significant role, Gonzalez Gutierrez said.

Mexico's average standard of living -- including health, education and per capita income -- is now higher than those in Russia, China and India, according to the United Nations.

Mexico's growing middle class "reduces the appetites to come because there are simply many more options" at home, Gonzalez Gutierrez said. "Most people who decided to migrate already have a job in Mexico and tend to be the most ambitious and attracted to the income gap between the U.S. and Mexico."

Mexico's economy is growing at 4 percent to 5 percent, benefiting from low inflation, exports and a strong banking system, the consul said.

Mexico's birthrate is also declining sharply. "As a natural consequence of us transforming from a rural to an urban society, we are running out of Mexicans to export," Gonzalez Gutierrez said. "Our society's growing at a rate of 2.1 children per woman -- in the 1970s it was more than five."

Once the U.S. economy recovers, the flow of migrants moving north "may go up again, although most likely they will not reach the peak levels we saw in the first half of the decade," he said.

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