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A Fresh Wave Exodus from Mexico


Pressured by violence and insecurity, a new wave of Mexican professionals is quietly making its way across the border to the United States in search of a better life. Reflecting a variety of career goals as well as personal aspirations, the new immigrant wave illustrates how the deteriorating public safety situation in cities like Ciudad Juarez is fueling capital flight and brain drain.

In Ciudad Juarez, legal sources report that business for assisting people in obtaining US immigration visas rose between 50-80 percent in the first six months of 2008 in comparison to the same period in 2007. Especially in demand are the E-2 Investor, F-1 Student and TN NAFTA Work visas, said Ciudad Juarez attorney Jennifer Gutierrez. Small business owners, professionals, hair stylists, and students rank high in the list of people trying to obtain the visas, Gutierrez said.

"Merchants want to invest their capital in the United States, and take not only their businesses over there but their families as well," Gutierrez said. "Out of desperation, they want to go to El Paso, one of the five safest cities in the United States, rather than remain in Juarez, one of the most violent cities in Mexico."

In order to get visas, applicants must prove they have a legitimate business in Mexico and sufficient money to invest in the United States, according to Gutierrez.

For others, professional expertise could be their ticket to El Norte. For instance, the Texas state government currently recruits teachers from Mexico to give instruction in the Lone Star State's public schools. Julio, a 43-year-old engineer from Ciudad Juarez, is part of a group of 12 Mexican teachers hired by Texas for the 2008-09 school year.

"When professionals reach a certain age it is more complicated to find work", Julio said. "I am forced by necessity to keep growing as well as the conditions of insecurity in the city to look for more peaceful and safe places."

Slammed by robberies, arson and vanishing business, restaurant owners and bar operators form another group trying to get out of Ciudad Juarez. Earlier this month a representative of a purported group of 20 restaurateurs announced his colleagues were planning to put their businesses up for sale and move to El Paso if possible.

"We are leaving because we can't live like this," said Francisco Aguirre Silva, owner of Desesperados Bar. "The authorities and the army have let the population down and don't provide security to us businessmen."

Since the beginning of the year an estimated 526 people have been murdered in Ciudad Juarez and the adjacent Juarez Valley. In one 24-hour period between June 21 and 22, at least 16 people were murdered in Ciudad Juarez. And if the record homicide rate wasn't enough to jolt the local population into thinking twice about staying put, the border city has been struck by a wave of armed robberies, auto thefts and kidnappings.

For the moment, it's difficult to determine the precise role of violence in encouraging emigration to the United States. One indicator is a sudden upsurge in home sales in El Paso, at a time of a depressed US real estate market.

Rodolfo Rubio, a demographer for El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, said people who migrate because of violence are often reluctant to discuss their motives.

"We always make the relationship between migratory behavior and the labor market," Rubio said, "but I believe we should move a step ahead and make the connections that explain these questions."

El Paso resident Blanca Angelica Parra is one immigrant willing to discuss the reasons she left Ciudad Juarez. Now an agent with the US Border Patrol, Parra was once a police officer in Ciudad Juarez, but the mounting drug-related violence caused the young woman to step back and take a look at her life. In 1995, she moved to the United States with her three-year-old daughter. "In Juarez, you get threatened if you arrest someone," Parra said. "They tell you they are going to kill you and your family."

In addition to Ciudad Juarez, the flight of the professional class has picked up in Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo in recent years. All three cities have been the scene of violent wars between drug syndicates. It's almost certain that the violence-driven out-migration from the border cities represents only a privileged layer of people desiring to leave under present circumstances.

Lacking the resources or skills needed for legal migration to the US, many low-income people remain trapped in violent neighborhoods where they hope a stray bullet or a gun-wielding thief does not come their way.

Source- CNBC


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