Immigrants leaving Nevada as economy sours BY CYNDI LOZA AND MARK ROBISON IMMIGRATION@RGJ.COM NOVEMBER 23, 2008 Local Hispanic immigrants, both legal and illegal, are heading back to their home countries as the U.S. economic climate worsens, community members, advocates and school officials said. remain are sending less money to their families abroad as construction and service industry jobs dry up. "What traditionally happens is that people come here to work when the economy is thriving," said Leslie A. Mix, former general manager for Univision. "People will work two, three jobs at any given time to save whatever they can and then send that money home to any family they've left behind. "In the current economic times, we're currently losing a portion of the (Hispanic) population. People have to move on to find jobs or they'll move back to their families." Marino Lemus, Mexican consul in Las Vegas, said immigrants in Clark County are leaving because of the construction slump, although he said solid figures were unavailable. In Northern Nevada, the number of immigrant students has dropped in school district programs designed for them.Mary Ann Robinson, with the Washoe County School District's English as a Second language program, said she's seen a drop in students in the program's newcomer centers for middle and high schools, where the kids are usually immigrants. The number of foreign-born students in ESL dropped nearly 13 percent from 2007-08 to the 2008-09 school year, according to district statistics. The exodus is seen nationwide. "Those numbers have increased percentage-wise tremendously," Enrique Hubbard, Mexican consul general in Dallas, told Fox News about people seeking information on returning to Mexico. "In fact, it's almost 100 percent more this year than it was the previous two years." The National Confederation of Farm Workers warned Mexico to expect the return of 350,000 people from the United States. Mexico City's municipal government predicts between 20,000 and 30,000 immigrants above the usual number will return from the U.S. in the next few months because they cannot find work. Mexican consulates in Chicago and California said about 4,000 more Mexican immigrants than usual have already left for Mexico City because of the economic crisis. At the same time, the increasing number of illegal immigrants entering the United States ground to a halt this year, for the first time in a decade falling below the number of those entering the country legally, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington research group. This summer, the Center for Immigration Studies said that the number of illegal immigrants in the United States had declined by 1.3 million, down to 11.2 million. In another indication of less illegal immigration, the Border Patrol has reported big decreases in arrests along the southwest border, including a more than 60 percent drop in El Paso, Texas. "The people I've met are driving back because they can't afford to fly anymore," said Leydi Cottrill, who leads the immigration program for Catholic Community Services of Northern Nevada. "A lot of them are really fighting to stay." One hint that the economy may be largely to blame comes in another recent Pew Hispanic study, this one on household income. It found that household income for noncitizen immigrants -- 45 percent of which are estimated to be headed by those in the country without proper documentation -- plunged 7.3 percent in 2007. Further, the study found that immigrant households showing the biggest income declines were households headed by Hispanics, immigrants from Mexico, recent arrivals, unmarried men, those who haven't graduated high school, and those in construction, production or service jobs -- industries with large numbers of illegal immigrants in Nevada. "A lot of people get desperate and go back to Mexico," said Joaquin Arista, 43, of Reno, who moved to the country in 1987 from Mexico. Maria Rodriguez, 22, of Reno, agreed. "There's no other way," said Rodriguez, who's been unemployed for five months. "The only option we have is to go back but then, the situation over there is the same as here." The Mexican newspaper La Jornada reported that between July and September this year, 24,700 workers returned to Oaxaca because of the downturn in the U.S. construction industry. This happened against the backdrop of new-home building falling to its lowest level in decades in September, according to the U.S. Commerce Department Rodriguez came to the U.S. in 1999 to work and send money back to her family in Guanajuato. She sent $70 in November. "They way things are there's nothing to send," said Rodriguez, who is legally in the country. Mexican migrants living in the U.S. took advantage of a weakening peso and sent home more money in September, but Mexico's central bank said remittances will still fall an estimated 2.5 percent this year. Total remittances in 2008 are expected to be $23.5 billion, down from $24 billion last year, Bank of Mexico President Guillermo Ortiz said. It would be the first yearlong decline since record-keeping began 12 years ago. But most immigrants -- illegal and legal -- will do what they can to help their families financially aboard, said Marco Lopez, 38, of Reno. "That's why there are so many remittances to Mexico," said Lopez, who is a legal immigrant. "We have to maintain our family. It's not a tradition, it's a necessity." Whatever it takes to send them back home. If it take our economy failing, so be it. I am willing to suffer for my countries survival. Now that they are leaving, keep them out.