Skip to comments.North of the Border: The Mexican Influence
Posted on 09/28/2003 6:23:30 PM PDT by Mo1
Part one of a five-part series explaining national and local trends of the Mexican community
Starve, steal or secretly cross the border into the United States. For thousands of Mexican citizens, these are the only options available to them. From Cancun to Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta to Cozumel, Mexico is renown around the world for having some of the best beaches, resorts, partying and tourist attractions.
Mexicans describe their native land with awe and respect, but millions are moving out.
Despite its assets, Mexico's economy is not supporting its people. Many decide to risk the trek into the United States, not because they are criminals, but to survive, they said.
Mexicans leave their homes, families and friends to live in a foreign place where they do not know the culture or language.
They face challenges with money, law enforcement, health, housing and education, but they come here and encourage others to follow.
The immigration wave over the last half-century is because of economic problems and the desire for a better life. Thousands are finding Norristown is their solution.
Between 1990 and 2000, Norristown's Hispanic population jumped nearly 400 percent, with most of the expansion within the last five years.
Though other Hispanic minorities, including Puerto Ricans, Hondurans, Cubans, Guatemalans, Argentinians and El Salvadorians, are evident in the past decade, a clear Mexican minority is dominant in what some are nicknaming, "NorrisMex."
At the peak of the original great wave of immigration into the United States, which was around 1910, the country saw millions of foreigners crowding the eastern seaboard.
According to immigration statistics, between 1880 and 1930, more than 27 million people sought a new home in America. Yet this peak is still less than half the number of immigrants entering the country today. According to the latest United States Census, more than 33 million people comprise the foreign-born population of this country, around 12 percent of the United States' total.
Of those millions, an additional seven million are illegal immigrants. Since the last census in 2000, immigration authorities estimate an additional two to three million have entered the country illegally. Most of the immigrants, both legal and illegal, are Mexican natives. The Census Bureau estimates 68 percent of the seven million illegal immigrants are Mexican, and officials assume the number has increased in the past three years.
According to the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., the number of Mexicans in the U.S. has more than doubled in every decade since 1970, with present estimates of more than 10 million. Despite government agencies and officials telling The Times Herald that security since Sept. 11 is tighter, local immigrants and their families do not believe much has changed.
They see new immigrants starting lives, securing jobs and visiting friends.
Mexicans are not deciding to come to the United States on a whim. Crossing the Mexican-American border is only the first step.
In the War on Terrorism, border enforcement and patrols have increased and the number of immigrants allowed to obtain legal documentation have decreased.
Those who have successfully made the journey start lives like anyone else and are trying to adapt. Some start businesses, others participate in sports leagues and many regularly attend church.
Public services from health to education, however, cannot deny immigrants access to emergency room care or an education. Some officials see the new wave of Mexican immigrants as a tax drain.
Others said they must be helped to prevent a social epidemic. But most Mexicans pay their taxes, while few receive benefits.
Illegal immigrants pay their taxes by using social security numbers and other identification that is not their own.
Some politicians are realizing the problem, but the Mexicans are a minority without a voice in Norristown. Many issues can only be addressed at the state and federal levels, leaving local officials without funding or resources to do much of anything.
Immigration is not happening in a distant or secluded portion of the country. It is happening across the nation - in both big and small towns, including Norristown.
This is the Great Mexican Wave.
Nobody is exactly sure why thousands have chosen to live here, but Norristown has the largest population of Hispanics in Montgomery County.
While the Hispanic population increased by nearly 2,500 individuals, the total population of the borough only increased by 500 people.
This means at least 2,000 non-Hispanics moved out of Norristown, while 2,000 Hispanics moved in.
In the early and mid 90's, Puerto Ricans were the largest Hispanic minority in Norristown, but now Mexicans have taken over that distinction.
Puebla and Acapulco are the two largest sending cities, officials said. But nobody is sure who was first or why Norristown was chosen. Officials only have assumptions. The most widely accepted beliefs are:
1. Immigrants arrive in larger cities and towns such as Philadelphia and West Chester, naturally sprawling to Norristown.
2. Inexpensive housing in Norristown encourages immigrants to establish lives here, rather than more expensive surrounding townships.
3. The abundance of service jobs in landscaping, retail, restaurants and hotels creates a demand that immigrants supply. Mexican immigrants are most often single men working in these jobs six to nine months of the year, who return to Mexico for the rest of the year.
4. Once immigrants establish homes here, they send for their families and friends, and in turn, these families and friends tell more people, creating a domino effect.
5. Less than 500,000 immigrants each year stay in the country. Though it looks like many immigrants are here, what people mostly see are immigrants in the country using temporary visas.
The journey is not easy. Some people have visas and other proper documentation to live in the United States, but about half of the Mexican population does not.
The trek is long, difficult and expensive - a decision that requires months of preparation.
"It's not easy to make that decision - to leave behind everything you know," said Miguel Dones, president of Conecciones, a social services and economic organization serving the Norristown community. Officials from the United States and Mexico agree that the reason for the great wave of immigration is money. "The opportunities are on this side of the border," said Deputy Consul Jacob Prado of the Mexican Consulate of Philadelphia. "Nobody wants to leave their hometown or families. If they come here, it's because economic opportunities are available in this country."
Some immigrants estimate that they earned $50 a week in Mexico by working 14-hour days, six days a week. But here, they are paid 10 times more, officials estimate. Ramon Trejo lives with his family in East Norriton, because he could not earn enough money to support them in Mexico, he said.
In the U.S., though still working six days a week in construction, he is making more than $100 a day - easily providing for his wife and all three daughters, Cynthia, 15, Karina, 8 and Veronica, 3.
It is a dream for many Mexicans to start a better life in the United States. However, in the post-Sept. 11 world, officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection say it is harder and more dangerous to enter the country and remain undocumented.
These agencies have vowed to prevent illegal immigration, and with heightened security across the country, federal agencies are enforcing laws and rounding up immigration violators considered a low priority before Sept. 11, 2001.
"The war against terrorism has also become a war against immigrants of all races," said Lilia Velasquez, a consultant for the Mexican Consulate in San Diego and professor at the California Western School of Law. "There is a fear that no matter where you are and where you go, that they're going to find you." Immigrants argue they want to enter the country legally, but cannot. In fact, most unauthorized immigrants said that if they could change one aspect of the immigration process, they would make it easier to obtain legal documents.
"The only real crime they commit is crossing the border," said Adamino Ortiz, president of the Accion Communal Latino Americana De Montgomery County. "They are most often law-abiding people that just want to make a better life for themselves."
The process, however, is lengthy and costly. Immigration lawyer Susan Smolens emphasizes the complex laws and long backlog at the BCIS, the new agency formed out of INS when the Department of Homeland Security took control of the agency.
Temporary visa's cost between $150 and $200, while trying to become a U.S. citizen takes thousands of dollars, nearly a decade of waiting and a phonebook's worth of paperwork.
It's not easy becoming an American, but Mexican families adapt by eating at the same restaurants, watching the same movies and relaxing the same ways. Many attend local churches, play their favorite sports and 13 Hispanic businesses, all run by Mexicans, are serving the Norristown community.
A lack of the English language, however, is preventing many from understanding the culture but many do know where to turn for help with health, housing, education and other social services.
While many Mexicans go through legal channels, some do not.
But all Mexicans are bringing their culture with them and some local officials said they are helping revitalize Norristown.
Others, however, say they are a "drain" on our tax dollars and immigration laws must be better enforced. No matter the opinion, nobody can deny the Great Mexican Wave.
In the next four days the series will address: Day Two: The journey to the United States and the Legal Channels of entering the United States.
Day Three: The Culture and Business of Being Mexican
Day Four: Social Problems and Actions
Day Five: Future and Change
Please God let it be so.
Cry me a river. There is no way Mexicans don't feel at home here. There are so many of them, they are becoming the language and the culture.
A Mexican feels much more at home in this country than any of us Americans would ever feel in Mexico.
What about the option of petitioning their own government to "jump start the economy." Why not fix your broken government rather than come here and help break ours?
Or is this leftist reporter admitting that mexico is a totalitarian elitist state where the little people have no hope other than to leave?
Either way I say it's time we in America start holding the Mexican government responsible for encouraging this, without of course letting our own sleazy politicians off the hook.
This is BS, Mexicans are the number 2 users of the EIC and welfare, Dominicans are number one.
Too bad it's the government program culture they feel they're having trouble understanding ---- what about the culture of self reliance and independence? The culture of small government? The culture most seem to be interested in learning is our culture of government dependence, the handout program culture. With a 35% overall welfare rate, I'd say the immigrants from Mexico are catching on pretty fast ---- quite a bit better than native born Americans when it comes to welfare.
It's not so --- the Mexican government --- Vicente Fox for example counts 25 million Mexican citizens in the USA. Most will never go back to Mexico --- there is nothing to go back to ---- nothing has improved, they already lost their homes and farms before they headed to the USA ---- plus Mexico has no giant welfare system ---- the 35% living off welfare in the USA will definitely not go back.
That's very true --- all these millions of people coming over the border once had a life and a means of support in Mexico. They weren't just sitting around 10 years ago doing nothing ---- they had homes, jobs, little farms and ranches. They've lost all that, they've lost everything --- when you see migration of this magnitude, something has gone very very wrong.
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