There is no doubt about it: The ongoing American recession has greatly reduced job opportunities in this country for illegal immigrants.
The effects can be seen in reduced numbers outside lumber yards and on street corners where recent arrivals often await chances at low-paying day labor. They can be seen in lowered unemployment rates in some states, Oklahoma the most spectacular.
Recession or no, unemployment there is down almost 25 percent from a year ago, due in part to tough new state laws penalizing employers of illegals, and also because of a reduced illegal immigrant presence caused by many thousands of Latin American workers returning home as Oklahoma jobs dried up.
There is also no doubt legal residents have filled some slots formerly occupied by illegals, both there and across America.
Another effect: Overall funds sent to Mexico by migrant workers failed to rise last year for the first time in more than 20 years, remaining level at about $24 billion, as contributions to relatives at home rose during the first half of the year, but dropped severely as recession began to take hold in late 2007. Those contributions will be down much farther by the time 2008 is over.
But none of this happens in a vacuum. Now the drop in jobs for illegal immigrants has begun to impact businesses in Mexico that depend heavily on spending by local residents whose relatives work here in “El Norte.”
So a rebound effect has begun. Because some American companies are shuttering factories they operate in Mexico due to reduced spending in the United States, and because of those impacted local businesses, job prospects in the poorest parts of Mexico are even worse than they were before most migrants initially headed north.
For as the U.S. economy sinks, so too does Mexico’s. And whenever that happens, Mexicans head north, legally or not.
Even with a recession on in America, even with rampant foreclosures making homeowners reluctant to hire anyone for maintenance, even with banks failing at record rates, and even with house payments on the rise, things are far better here than south of the border.
“If times are tough here in San Jose, they are much tougher in my hometown near Guadalajara,” said Octavio Gutierrez, 27, waiting and hoping for work as he stood outside a lumber yard, itself doing about 30 percent less business than a year ago. “No matter how bad it is here, it is a lot better than down there.”
Gutierrez is part of a new wave of “rebound” illegal immigration. When jobs began to dry up in Southern California, where he lived the previous three years, he returned to Mexico. Once there, he found things far worse than in California.
“Even if I only get work one time in three days, it is better than at home,” said the day laborer. “In that one day, I will earn more than in a week of work there. I send most of the money home to my wife, but I am not sending as much as before.”
With payments from migrants down and some forecasts for this year’s economic growth in Mexico as low as 1.9 percent, that country seems poised for a recession of its own, which would see even more potential migrants head for the border.
There, they might encounter a “virtual fence” when they try to cross into Arizona and move on to California – or they might not. That’s because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security last spring scrapped a $20 million prototype of the highly touted electronic sensors which were supposed to cover large portions of the border not slated to get physical fencing.
The Boeing Co. saw its prototype scrubbed after the Government Accountability Office reported to Congress that it “did not fully meet user needs.” This was shorthand for the fact that there were major time lags between electronic detection of movement along the border and transmission of images and information to Border Patrol agents. Illegal migrants thus could go many miles into America before anyone reacted to their presence.
No one knows when a system that works well can be deployed, leaving little new on hand to stop illegal immigrants willing to seek out the most rural parts of the border.
Which means the rebound immigration wave will likely rise as more and more former illegals who returned home discover that even without legal status, life was better for them in America.