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For Returning Migrants, Good News About Mexico’s Economy Doesn’t Apply

Above: The inspection area at the port of entry in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico is where holiday travelers stop before making their journey south.

Audio

Aired 12/22/12

In Mexico, the economy is growing, but that growth isn't happening in a sector that offers hope for returning migrants.

Travelers unload their cargo for inspection at the port of entry in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

NUEVO LAREDO, Tamaulipas, Mex. -- Immigration to the United States has slowed in last three years as a result of the economic recession. Some migrants are even choosing to go back home.

In Mexico, the economy is growing, but that growth isn't happening in a sector that offers hope for returning migrants.

Those who go back typically begin their journey at the border. One of the busiest ports of entry is across from south Texas in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.

During the holiday season Nuevo Laredo's international bridge looks like a never-ending gypsy parade. A motley crew of travelers bunch together at the inspection area on the Mexican side. They carry truckloads of stuff, from bicycles, to lawn mowers, to waist-high bins brimming with clothes and shoes.

Most are going back to Mexico for a long vacation but others, like Ariel Espinoza, are headed back for good. Espinoza owned his own construction business in Florida.

"The construction business started to go down, down down," he said.

In good times, Espinoza was making $40 an hour but lately his income has dropped to $12 a hour. It wasn't enough to pay his bills or support his family, so he's moving back to his hometown in central Mexico. He's been gone for the last 18 years.

"It's the goal when you move to the United States (to have) a better life, but right now it's hard," he said.

Mexico's economy is growing at a rate of about 4 percent per year, according to the International Monetary Fund. That's faster than Brazil, one of Latin America's strongest economies. But much of Mexico's growth is concentrated in trade and manufacturing, and these aren't industries where low-skilled returning migrants are easily absorbed. That means returnees like Espinoza may face a struggle ahead.

The central state of Zacatecas has one of the highest departing migration rates in Mexico. But in recent years, the tide has turned as people come back.

A classroom of students in the state of Zacatecas. Most of the children spent time living in the United States and some are American citizens.

At a school in the small town of Pastoría, a teacher gives her students a lesson in science. The school recently enrolled 43 new children whose parents have recently moved back from the United States.

Magaly Lopez Ruiz is the mother of three of those children. All were born in the U.S.. The family moved back from Virginia a year ago after her husband got deported. Readjusting to life in Mexico has been difficult.

"My son rebelled when we first move back," she said. "He stopped eating."

In Virginia, Lopez made at least $600 a week cleaning apartments. Now she's unemployed and her husband works in the fields making about $10 a day. Other families at the school are in similar situations, barely making ends meet.

Rodolfo Zamora Garcia, an economist who specializes in immigration, says the good news about the Mexican economy doesn't apply to returning migrants.

"In the absence of economic opportunity in Mexico, the only form of social promotion they know is immigration," he said.

In fact, the Mexico these migrants return to looks very much like the Mexico they left. Half the population is living in poverty. Loans are hard to come by for those who want to start a business and numerous monopolies in everything from milk to telecommunications discourage budding entrepreneurs.

Until those things change, some economists say immigration north will continue.

School children in the state of Zacatecas play a game of darts during recess.

Back at school in Pastoría, children blow up balloons to play a game of darts at recess. The recently arrived American students sometimes sneak in a few words to each other in English. One of those students, Christopher Acosta, said he doesn't plan to stay here long.

"We're gonna go back," he said. "When we're a little bit more older, like in high school, we're going to leave"

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was produced in collaboration with reporter Lilian Lopez and Round Earth Media’s Mexico reporting project.

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