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Immigrants to US Struggle to Support Families Back Home


A shopping mall parking lot is a gathering place for migrants looking for work. On a cold morning in March, about 50 men stand in near silence, hoping to attract an employer in need of cheap day labor.

Andres Lopez, from Guatemala, says there has been hardly any work for the past year. He blames the recession."Its affected all of the workers in this area," he says, "I think we all know that we came here to find work but right now its very hard.

"Without work, Lopez says he has hardly enough money to support himself, let alone to send to his family in Guatemala.His story points to a growing trend -- migrants finding it increasingly difficult to continue sending money to their home countries.

Analysts say the development is surprising because during previous times of economic uncertainty, the flow of remittances has remained stable or even grown.

A recent World Bank report, for example, notes that Mexicans living in the United States actually sent more money to relatives back home in 2007, even as their personal incomes declined.

"They know that there is a fixed budget that they have to come up with and that's somewhere around $1,500. And of that $1,500, $300 are to [their] family," says Manuel Orozco, Director of the Remittances and Development Program at the Inter-American Dialogue policy group.

For many migrants, supporting families in their home countries is an essential duty. As a result, they are more likely to pursue other options as the economy worsens -- including cutting back on personal spending or dipping into savings -- rather than neglect their obligations.

As migrants continue to sacrifice for their families, some experts say they jeopardize their ability to support themselves.

"I'm sure they're cutting back their expenses to the minimum, which in the end will damage their health and well-being here in the United States" says Jesus Moreno with the Hispanic Committee of Virginia -- a community organization that helps Spanish-speaking immigrants develop job skills and find work. "They would rather send more money to their people there because they're also dealing with basic needs," he says.

The trend is not limited to Latin American communities. The World Bank predicts that remittances to Europe and Central Asia could decline by as much as 12.7 percent this year. South Asia could see a more than seven percent drop. And remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa could fall by nearly eight percent.Nestor Decena and his wife Nerie immigrated to the United States from the Philippines.They live in the suburbs of Washington in a modest house with an expansive garden that is the envy of their neighbors. But for the past few months, Nestor has been struggling to find a job. "I do electrical, I do mechanical, I do carpentry, I do masonry. I do everything!" he says. "If somebody calls me, 'Nestor, I want you to paint my house,' okay, I'm going to paint it.

"The Decena's family members in the Philippines are facing their own economic hardships -- hospital bills, falling income -- and are turning to their relatives in the United States for help. But Nestor Decena says that these days, he can afford to help only so much. "As long as I have money, I can give [it to] them. If I don't have money, what can I say? I am always helpful to my family."

Although many analysts say the economic outlook for this year is bleak, the World Bank estimates that global remittance flows will recover as early as 2010.

The bank warns, however, that recovery could be dampened if countries tighten immigration controls in response to weakening job markets.

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