With the numbers of Mexicans leaving home for the United States and other countries going up, the amount of money they send back home is increasing dramatically, according to Mexican banking sources. Mexicans north of the border increased their remittances by more than 26 percent in the first quarter.
According to the Bank of Mexico, during the first quarter of this year, Mexicans living outside the country sent back more than $2.7 billion to their homeland. That is a 26.1 percent increase over the same period last year. Bank officials say the remittance payments amounted to more than what the country took in from foreign tourists and investors during that time.
This flow of money from migrant workers and Mexican residents in the United States, Canada and other nations, combined with higher oil prices on the world market, have put Mexico's current quarterly account deficit at its lowest point in five years. This has strengthened the peso and given support to the job market at a time when the economic downturn in the United States is diminishing demand for many other exports from Mexico.
Remittances from Mexican immigrants have become an important part of the Mexican economy in recent years, with only oil and tourism providing more revenue to the country. Last year, Mexicans abroad sent home over $10 billion. This year, based on what happened in the first quarter, the figure could increase dramatically.
Recognizing the importance of immigrant earnings north of the border, Mexico has been seeking an immigration accord with the United States to make it easier for laborers to move back and forth across the border. Such an agreement seemed close in early September of 2001, when Mexican President Vicente Fox met with President Bush in Washington to begin discussing the issue. But the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 pushed the matter aside and the United States has taken even stronger measures to tighten security at its borders in an attempt to stop terrorists.
Mexican officials continue to insist that working men and women going over the border represent no threat and have continued to speak of an immigration accord as a top priority. The death of 19 illegal immigrants in a locked trailer abandoned on a Texas highway earlier this month has focused attention again on the human toll of the current impasse between Mexico and the United States.
Critics say Washington is perpetuating a system in which immigrants are rewarded with relatively good-paying jobs if they can make it to the United States, but face life-threatening dangers in the attempt. But groups opposed to an immigration accord advocate even tougher measures to secure the border and a crackdown on employers who hire undocumented workers. They say a better solution to the problem would be reforms in Mexico that would create more jobs and lessen the country's dependence on money sent back home by immigrants.