Why some immigrants are leaving

Pew Hispanic Center study says fewer jobs for Hispanic immigrants in 2008.

VOCES LATINAS

By. Pablo Ros

Maria is leaving South Bend — she’s going back to Mexico with her three children, because she and her hus-band have run out of hope.

Cristina, too, and her husband, are leaving the city where they raised their five children because, she says, “our prospects for growth are better” in Mexico.

Cristina and Maria — whose last names the Tribune is not publishing because the two women and their hus-bands either entered the country illegally in search of work or have overstayed their tourist visas — said they know other immigrants who are leaving, too.

Although there is no indication of Hispanic immigrants leaving the U.S. labor force, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center published last week, their unemployment rate in the first quarter of this year was higher than that of native-born Latinos for the first time since 2003. Also, the study found that unemployment among Hispanics rose to well above the rate for all non-Hispanics.

In other words, Hispanics — and, especially, undocumented immigrants — lack work. The reasons Maria and Cristina are going back to Mexico are a debilitating concoction of rising gas and food prices, a gloomy work envi-ronment, tougher anti-immigrant measures and few prospects of change in the year ahead.

“We feel the money we earn isn’t enough anymore,” Maria told me, referring to herself and her husband, who works in a factory in Elkhart.

Maria said she’s been looking for a second job for two months. A housekeeping employee for a hotel in South Bend, she said her boss reduced her working hours by half after the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles issued her a no-match letter on her social security number, which is made up.

“This had never happened before,” she said.

That caused Maria’s contribution to her family’s income to shrink by half, she said. If she and her three chil-dren go back to Mexico City, Maria told me, they can get some help from her parents and siblings in resettling there. Meanwhile, her husband would remain here, move to a smaller home, find a second job, and send them money.

Although Cristina’s situation is apparently not as dire as Maria’s, she and her husband are similarly motivated.

Cristina has lived in South Bend for 15 years and has five American-born children. But she told me she and her husband, who are independent distributors of Omnilife dietary supplements, no longer see a profitable future here.

“We’d been thinking about leaving for about a year,” Cristina said, explaining that “opportunities for growth” in the company they work for require travel to other countries, something they can’t do without running the risk of not being allowed back into the States.

Maria and Cristina both told me they plan to return to Mexico in time for their children to start the new school year in a few months.

But the two women differed when asked if they believed they would some day return to South Bend.

Cristina told me her eldest child, who is 15, would someday as an adult be able to sponsor her and her hus-band’s return to the States legally. She said they’re counting on it, and that’s why they’ve made no plans to sell the house they recently finished paying for here.

Maria, on the other hand, has lived in South Bend for six years. She has three children, but only the youngest, who is 4, is American-born.

Maria told me her husband will rejoin her in Mexico in about a year. She said she doesn’t envision them ever returning to the States.

Cristina told me she knows of at least two other immigrants or immigrant families who had established lives here but who, for similar reasons, have left or are leaving the country in the near future. Maria told me she knows of one who is leaving but is unsure of her exact reasons for doing so.

The Pew Hispanic Center study, published on its Web site, found that the unemployment rate for Hispanics had risen in the first quarter of 2008 “mainly” because of a “slump in the construction industry.” It found that the unemployment rate of Mexican immigrants rose to 8.4 percent from 5.5 percent over the past year.

And while the study found that Hispanic immigrants are not leaving the labor market, it registered reduced levels of immigration. For example, while in 2005-06 the Latino immigrant working-age population increased by 784,000 workers, in 2007-08 the rise was significantly lower, of 462,000.

The complete Pew Hispanic Center report can be read at http://pewhispanic.org/files/reports/88.pdf