March 16, 2008

This article on the connections between Atlanta and the economies (and hopes and fears) of two Mexican towns is pretty interesting.

In two towns, Ejido Modelo Emiliano Zapata in the central agricultural state of Jalisco and San Marcos, on Mexico's sweltering Pacific coast, the reputation of metro Atlanta has undergone a transformation.

For decades, both have been sending the vast majority of their immigrants to Georgia as undocumented workers. Both towns survive largely because of the money sent home by fathers and brothers working in Atlanta.

Both places are watching with great worry the changes in the state's political climate.

"I don't know what happened, a racist element entered somewhere along the way," said Antonio Lorenzo Cortes, a

48-year-old San Marcos native who has been migrating illegally to Atlanta on and off since 1988. "At first we were welcomed, but now they see us as delinquents."

Among the proposed measures making the most waves in Mexico is the proposal to allow police to seize cars driven by illegal immigrants who violate traffic laws. That measure, sitting before a Georgia House subcommittee, has scared migrants in Atlanta, causing many to send their vehicles back home to avoid losing their cars, residents in Mexico say.

And rumors are flying through both towns that the children of undocumented immigrants will not be granted citizenship even if they are born on U.S. soil. A Georgia measure would merely urge the U.S. Congress to pass such a law since states don't have that authority. But, as in a transnational game of telephone, the original news got twisted as it arrived across the border.

And the number of migrants who return to visit has plummeted, residents say, because of increased concern over crossing the border. At the same time, the number of migrants who have returned permanently has gone up because of fear of raids, deportations or disgust with the new laws and policies.

But despite the growing feeling that Georgia has become hostile to immigrants, the tug of Atlanta remains strong in these communities. It is still home to relatives who can receive and orient newer immigrants. And in both towns, despite worries about creeping recession, there is the strong perception that there is work to be had in Atlanta.

In Ejido Modelo, which is made up mostly of elderly parents, wives and children, the laws have translated into a lot of worry. Set against Mexico's largest lake, Lago Chapala, Ejido Modelo provides few jobs for its residents besides hacking a living out of the cornfields or fishing in the polluted lake.

People like Blas Chavarria Avalos, 66, survive on the money sent home by their children. Chavarria has five children in the United States, including one in Atlanta, who he says paid for his open-heart surgery a few years ago.

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