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Mexican Immigrants Face Travel Barriers During Holidays - 2001-12-12

Hundreds of thousands of Mexican immigrants are returning from the United States to spend the Christmas holidays back in their homeland with their families.

For some, the visit will last only a couple of weeks, but for those who lost work north of the border as a result of the September terrorist attacks and subsequent recession, prospects are bleak. The reverse migration could have a negative impact on the Mexican economy.

In the main bus terminal in Puebla, anxious relatives wait to see if a family member has arrived from "el norte" - the United States. Some of those who have traveled back to their home state await buses that go deep into the mountainous interior of the state where many small villages depend on the money sent back by sons and daughters who labor up north.

Esteban is one of the lucky ones.

He has come back from his home-away-from-home in Hyattsville, Maryland to spend Christmas with his aging parents, but he says he still has work as a delivery truck driver there and plans to return.

He says he did not return out of fear because, despite the terrorist attacks, all remains peaceful where he lives. He says the only problem has been the extra security at the airports that caused some delay. As a resident visa holder, Esteban counts himself among the lucky ones who can travel back and forth without worry.

The situation is harder for undocumented workers who return home. They face the prospect of not being able to get back because of increased U.S. enforcement at the border.

Many who lost jobs up north may want to remain in Mexico, but jobs are scarce and the Mexican economy is experiencing a downturn directly related to the one taking place in the United States. If thousands of returning immigrants choose to stay at home, Mexico's unemployment ranks will swell.

Mexican officials say they expect hundreds-of-thousands of their citizens who work in the United States to return for this holiday season. About 150,000 migrants are returning to the state of Puebla alone.

But officials say they expect only two to three-percent of returning migrants to stay. If they are wrong, however, the impact on the Mexican economy could be enormous. Remittances from Mexicans working in the United States amounted to $8 billion last year - the third largest source of income behind petroleum exports and tourism.