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One Man's American Dream Slipping Away

The economic downturn and a shortage of jobs in the United States is prompting some immigrants to consider returning to their home countries. The small town of Pierson in the southern U.S. state of Florida depends heavily on the fern growing industry.

The Farmworkers Association of Florida, which advocates for immigrant workers, says some of the 5,000 local fernery laborers are only able to find two or three days of work a week.

Worker Marcelino Gil is contemplating the future amid cutbacks. He is a single parent and an immigrant from Monterrey, Mexico, every day is a struggle to earn enough money to take care of his three children.

He starts work early every morning at a local fernery. Gil used to work full time, but he says the economic downturn has made life difficult. "I'm working more or less 30 hours per week, which is not a considerable salary to survive," he said. "Before, I used to work up to 60 hours."

Gil does maintenance jobs at the fernery.

The fern industry is still reeling from hurricanes in 2004 which wiped out $76 million of fern and nursery crops.

Gil came to the U.S. in 1977 when he was just 19 years old. He's now considering returning to Mexico.

"When I arrived here, I made good money," he recalls. "But nowadays it is impossible. The work is not enough to subsist."

Gil says he has not discussed with his children the possibility of returning to Mexico. His oldest son, 18-year-old Javier, has a job. But his two younger children, 16-year-old Janet and 11-year-old Marcelino, are both in school.

Janet is worried for the future. "He tries to give us everything that we want or everything that we need for school because he wants us to succeed," she said. "If he doesn't have money I'm not going to be able to join soccer and stuff, and I'm not going to be able to get good grades.".

Gil grows his own produce, including avocados, lemons, guavas and apples, to save money.

To help make ends meet, he sometimes repairs cars for friends after work. He has even sold some of his furniture.

Gil has worked in Pierson ferneries for 24 years and is a legal U.S. resident. But the Mexican immigrant says he feels his dream of a better life in the United States is slipping away. "This is a country that welcomed me and I like it here. Also, I have nothing in Mexico. But the thing is, if the economy continues like it is now, there is no chance to stand out. One feels oppressed," he said.

While Gil hopes the economy will recover so he can work more hours at the fernery, he says he will do whatever he can to provide for his family.