So in January, Mr. Carrillo sliced open the green plastic piggy bank he'd bought at Wal-Mart and counted $3,100 in change and bills. "There was enough to buy a plane ticket home and ship my truck to Guatemala," recalls Mr. Carrillo, 37 years old. Now back in San Juan Alotenango, a town of dirt streets and sporadic running water, he hauls fruit, firewood and recyclable metal for a few dollars a trip. [Latest Immigration Wave: Retreat, By Miriam Jordan, October 2, 2008]But once you wade through the sob story tripe, there are some interesting facts.
The Census Bureau reported last month that the income of U.S. households headed by non-citizen foreigners dropped 7.3% in 2007 from the previous year, after rising 4.1% in 2006. Pew Hispanic says that among households headed by Central Americans, the drop in income has been in the double digits.Yes, some go home—it's normal! Let's encourage that trend.
As a result, flows of money to Latin America from U.S.-based workers have slowed for the first time since the Inter-American Development Bank began tracking remittances in 2000. The rate of growth in remittances to Mr. Carrillo's home country of Guatemala has slowed in each of the past four quarters. The bank estimates that in the last quarter of this year, remittances will fall for the first time.
Some 1.35 million Guatemalan citizens — 10% of the country's population — live in the U.S., according to the Central American Institute of Social and Development Studies, an independent think tank in Guatemala. Some 3.5 million people back in Guatemala depend on these remittances to get by, the group says. Remittances are the top foreign-exchange earner for Guatemala, at $4.12 billion in 2007, ahead of coffee, sugar and other exports.
Such income fuels everything from construction and appliance sales to spending on services. When the remittances shrink, "the first things to go out the window are education and health care — things that determine a family's long-term earnings potential," says Robert Meins, a remittances specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank.
An immigrant exodus wouldn't be unprecedented. As many as one-third of the nearly 30 million foreigners who arrived in the U.S. between the Civil War and World War I returned to their native countries. Arrivals from Latin America also ebb and flow, with the influx to the U.S. last slackening during the 2001-02 recession.
And about those remittances... note that at least in some countries it's only the rate of growth that is not increasing. Foreigners are still stripmining and removing billions of dollars from the United States every year.