RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from the Mexican state of Guanajuato.
LOURDES GARCIA: Esmelinda Guerrero-Lopez(ph) is distraught as she stands next to a cornfield in the rural community of San Nicolas. She wipes tear from her eye with a chubby fist.
ESMELINDA GUERRERO: (Through translator) We are suffering so much now, him up there, us down here. And now the Americans are not giving them any work. My husband says he wants to come home, but he says he can't round up enough money for the return trip.
GARCIA: A stout woman with five children, she seems as rooted to the land here as the thick trees that surround her. Her family, though, had dispersed up north like dandelion seeds. Three of her children (Spanish spoken) or on the other side as stay here. Her husband, too, is an undocumented migrant who works as a stonemason in Naples, Florida. He's been heading up there every year for the past 20 years, leaving in the spring and returning in the fall, making good money.
GUERRERO: Before, we didn't have anything. But since he's been going up there we have our house, a small car, just a few things. He was supporting our family.
GARCIA: But this year things have changed.
GUERRERO: My husband went there this year and he hasn't been able to find a job. He says he gets three or four days of odd jobs. He has to save to pay his rent, his light bill, water, everything, and he has to send me some money, too. The bosses tell them they won't get work because they're undocumented and they could be punished. There is so much work to be done, he says, but they won't hire undocumented workers now.
GARCIA: And she's not the only one who's feeling that change. Remittances, the money which migrants send home, are down, she says, across the community.
GUERRERO: Many of the people I know have said the same thing. We can all see the difference. You know, when they're over there, sometimes you can treat yourself to a taco or a hamburger in town. But now we can't do that. The restaurants in town are empty. The clothing stores are not selling.
GARCIA: So I'm now in Juventino Rosas, the main town in this rural area. And I'm just walking into Intermex, which is a company that pays out remittances to the families here. The counters I'm seeing in front of me are completely empty. No one is here except for the tellers. Maria Arce(ph) is one of them. She's been working here for six years.
MARIA ARCE: (Through translator) We've noticed that less money is being sent back here, and people have said it's because things are difficult in the US. It's either too difficult to cross over or they're having trouble finding work. In other years there were more customers for sure.
GARCIA: She estimates that her business is down about 20 to 30 percent, the first time that she can recollect this happening. It's been manifesting itself in other ways, too. More people are now having to take out micro-loans to make ends meet, says Guadalupe Sonorsono(ph). He works in a regional savings and loan.
GUADALUPE SONORSONO: (Through translator) You can feel the tension here now. You go to someone's house and see there is no money. If someone gets sick, they can't pay the doctor. People are going into debt. When they don't receive their remittances, they have to get these kinds of loans.
GARCIA: Which they may have trouble paying back. If remittances fall, it's not just a problem for the individual. It's a problem for this whole country. Money sent by migrants is the second largest source of foreign income in Mexico, only exceeded by oil revenue.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NAVARRO: With Mexican music cheerily playing in the background, the mayor of Juventino Rosas sits under a tent in the main park meeting with his constituents.
JUAN ANTONIO ACOSTA CANO: I am Juan Acosta Cano.
GARCIA: That's about as far as his English goes, but Mayor Costa says he has 12 family members, mostly undocumented, who work north of the border. And he's blunt about what would happen if the situation gets even more difficult for Mexican migrants in the U.S.
ANTONIO ACOSTA CANO: (Through translator) If we weren't able to send our migrants north, we would have a big, big, big problem.
GARCIA: Last year, Mexico received a record amount of remittances. Also, some experts pointed a slowing of the construction boom, where many undocumented migrants traditionally worked, as having had more of an effect than law enforcement on the employment of foreign labor. Still, for many here it's a worrying trend, whatever its reason.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROOSTER CROWING)
GARCIA: Back in the village of San Nicolas, Esmelinda Guerrero-Lopez wishes her husband could get a simple work permit so he could go and come back legally.
GUERRERO: (Through Translator) They just want to go and work and not do anything bad. We hear that the fields up there are not being worked now because there's no one to do the jobs. We Mexicans, we work hard and even with bad pay.
GARCIA: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Juventino Rosas, Mexico.
MONTAGNE: Unidentified Woman: The real dream is to buy a property, to buy a piece of land, and start to build up their own house. But the problem is, now we can see a - more and more common is to see this community with empty houses.
MONTAGNE: Empty houses, empty towns. That's tomorrow on MORNING EDITION.
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