As U.S. Job Opportunities Fade, More Mexicans Look Homeward

Miriam Jordan, Wall Street Journal, February 13, 2009

During a decade in the U.S., Mexican immigrant Linex Rivera gave birth to three daughters, whose American citizenship offered her hope of staying in the land of opportunity. But with job prospects drying up for her husband, Ms. Rivera last week joined a phalanx of compatriots at the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles inquiring about obtaining Mexican citizenship for their children.

“We are thinking of returning to Mexico and want our daughters to have all the rights of Mexican nationals,” says Ms. Rivera, whose children are nine, five and three.

After a historic immigration wave, many Mexicans and other Latin Americans are preparing to return to their homelands amid the deepening recession here. Mexicans who reside in the U.S. sought Mexican citizenship for their U.S.-born children in record numbers last year.

Unemployment Hits Hispanics

The unemployment rate for foreign-born Hispanics hit 8% in the fourth quarter of 2008 compared with 5.1% in the same quarter a year earlier, according to the report by the Pew Hispanic Center. Read the report.

The recession is hitting Hispanic immigrants especially hard, according to a new report by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization. The unemployment rate for foreign-born Hispanics hit 8% in the fourth quarter of 2008, compared with 5.1% in the same quarter a year earlier. During the same period, the unemployment rate for all U.S. workers climbed to 6.5% from 4.6%.

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The number of people caught trying to sneak into the U.S. along the border with Mexico is at its lowest level since the mid-1970s. While some of the drop-off is the result of stricter border enforcement, the weaker U.S. economy is likely the main deterrent. Border Patrol agents apprehended 705,000 people attempting to enter the U.S. illegally in the 12 months that ended Sept. 30. That is down from 858,638 a year before and from 1.1 million two years earlier.

{snip} “We believe it is a myth that a lot of Mexicans are going back,” said a Mexican diplomat in Washington, who asked to remain anonymous. “But given the economic situation, some of them might be considering it.”

A host of metrics suggest they are considering it seriously. Between January and September last year, 32,517 Mexicans registered their U.S.-born children for Mexican citizenship at a Mexican consulate, compared with 28,687 for all 2007 and 20,791 in 2006. The 2008 total is likely to be more than 35,000, according to Mexican consular officials.

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But Mexican citizenship has its own benefits. Having Mexican nationality entitles U.S.-born children of immigrants to obtain health care, education and other benefits, as well as the right to vote, in Mexico. Mexican nationals also don’t face restrictions on land and business ownership that apply to foreigners.

Mexican consulates also report they have experienced a spike in applications for a “personal-effects permit” that entitles its nationals to transfer their household goods to Mexico without paying import duties.

Meanwhile, applications for the “matricula consular,” an identity card that Mexicans in the U.S. need to open bank accounts and conduct other business, such as rent an apartment, appear to be declining. Through the first nine months of 2008, 689,150 Mexican adults had applied for the identity card nationwide. That compares with 947,000 for all of 2006.

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