Migrants agree: It's harder to get jobs
The immigration debate is affecting migrant workers: A new poll showed it's getting more difficult to find work and discrimination is rising.
Posted on Thu, Aug. 09, 2007
BY PABLO BACHELET AND CASEY WOODS
Ricardo Gonzalez is a 'jornalero,' or day laborer, who stands at a parkling lot near the Cutler Ridge Home Depot hoping to get temporary jobs.
He has a mother in Honduras who needs money for her medication, rent on a house in Homestead that he struggles to pay, and he has a daughter in South Florida whom he wants to support.
And each day, it seems, it's harder to get a job.
''The money I make means the survival of my family, and the work seems to have disappeared so quickly,'' said Gonzlez, 42, who spends his days in a parking lot near the Cutler Ridge Home Depot with other day laborers. “Things have gotten really terrible for immigrants.''
A new study indicates that Gonzlez's view is shared by a growing number of migrants from Mexico and Central America. They are finding it harder to get jobs and are living under a dramatically increased sense of siege, according to the report by the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank and the Bendixen polling firm in Miami.
The study for the first time demonstrates with hard numbers the impact that the immigration debate in Washington is having on America's streets.
More than one-third of Central Americans and 30 percent of Mexicans said their biggest problem in the United States was discrimination, against single-digit responses for similar questions in 2004. And 83 percent of Mexicans and 79 percent of Central Americans said discrimination was on the rise.
The poll also found 82 percent of Mexicans and 84 percent of Central Americans said they found it more difficult to obtain a good-paying job than a year ago. Forty-five percent blamed the increased difficulty on problems with documentation, while 21 percent blamed a lack of jobs.
The study also showed remittances to Mexico are growing but at a much slower pace.
''What I have found is both ugly and sad,'' pollster Sergio Bendixen said. “There are millions of Latin American immigrants, especially those living in the deep South and the upper Midwest, whose lives have been made miserable by the anti-immigrant sentiment that is now so prevalent in so many geographic areas.''
Bendixen has been carrying out the survey since 2001 for the Inter-American Bank, a multilateral institution that gives loans to Latin American nations. He said during a news conference in Washington that the numbers showing Hispanics are targets of discrimination have never been so stark.
Researchers interviewed 900 migrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Just over half of those polled said they were undocumented. More than half of those polled were in the United States for more than 10 years and two of every 10 made less than $20,000 a year. The poll's margin of error is three percentage points.
The poll was conducted in June, at the height of the debate in the U.S. Senate to overhaul immigration laws. A proposal to provide an avenue for many migrants to legalize their status failed amid a backlash from mostly conservatives demanding a crackdown on illegal immigration.
Gonzlez said he hasn't sent money to his family in the Honduran port city of La Ceiba since November and ties his troubles to a growing anti-immigrant sentiment — even in immigrant-rich South Florida.
''Some of the bosses yell and say they are going to call the police on us if we don't do what they say or if we ask to be paid,'' Gonzlez said. “We work like animals and they still discriminate against us.''
Miguel Raimundo, a Guatemalan and Homestead day laborer, said the government crackdown on illegal immigration — which has included an intensified national campaign of immigration raids for people with outstanding deportation orders — has left employers scared to hire migrant workers.
''They say they'll be fined if they get caught using immigrants without papers, so they don't hire us anymore,'' said Raimundo, 35.
In recent months he's only been able to send about $300 a month to his wife and five children in Guatemala, far less than the $1,200 he sent when work was steady.
The IDB/Bendixen report estimates Mexicans will send $23.4 billion to their families back home in 2007, only a 1 percent increase from last year. In the first half of this year, the growth in such remittances was just 0.6 percent, compared to the 23 percent jump registered in the same period last year.
By contrast, Central Americans are expected to send almost $10 billion in remittances this year, an 8 percent jump from the year before.
The study credited the differences between the two groups to the fact that while 18 percent of Mexicans live outside traditional areas with large Latino populations — California, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Illinois, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and the District of Columbia — only 3 percent of Central Americans live outside those areas.
SENDING LESS MONEY
Those Mexicans who moved to nontraditional areas in recent years are now feeling the highest heat from anti-immigrant sentiments. Before, 80 percent of those Mexicans used to send money back home, against only 49 percent now.
''They feel unprotected,'' Bendixen said. “They have nowhere to go for help.''
Just under half of this ''new states'' group say they will leave the United States in five years, compared with two-thirds of those in the traditional states. Bendixen said previous polls showed only about 15 percent of Latinos planned to return to their home countries.
Both Gonzlez and Raimundo said they are sick of the constant fear and the crushing days of waiting for work and are among those who are considering heading home.
''If the situation stays this way, not just me but maybe everyone will be leaving,'' Raimundo said.
Gonzlez is already planning his departure.
''The only thing I'm waiting for is to make some money, because I don't want to go home empty-handed,'' he said. “With all that's happening, I don't want to be here anymore.''
McClatchy Newspapers bureau correspondent Dave Montgomery contributed to this report.