COLUMBIA — While many struggle to understand how the financial crisis will affect them directly, Sedalia resident Jaime Santana’s family in Mexico and Cuba felt the effects almost immediately.
Santana, a Mexican-born mortgage broker, was forced by reeling housing and credit markets to find a new, steadier source of income.
“The financial situation was very bad,” Santana said. “The economy, in general, did a 360-degree turn, and the ones that were hit were the sales contractors like me.”
He began to work in home loans part time and took a full-time position with the Boys and Girls Club of West Central Missouri.
As a result, his remittances— or support money to family abroad — has been cut by about 50 percent, from approximately $500 each month to about $250.
In adjusting his spending to a different job and a new economic climate, Santana – like countless other Hispanics and other immigrants — made a difficult decision most others don’t have to think about: cutting remittances sent to support his loved ones in Mexico and Cuba.
A study conducted this year by Inter-American Dialogue found that immigrants to the United States send remittances home about 15 times per year, with an average amount of about $250. Thus, the average immigrant sends home about $3,500, or about 15 percent of earnings, each year.
“There is some degree of confusion in the sense that there are people who think what happens on Wall Street is something isolated,” said MU political science professor Moisés Arce, a native of Peru whose research focuses on transitioning Latin American economies.
“But there is also the other thought, which says that if the stock market drops, it will have strong effects on the job market, liquidity and credit. I think public perception is now more in the latter position.
“It gets difficult. If you don’t have any money, you can’t send any. That hurts them, it hurts you, it hurts everyone,” he said. “It’s a vicious cycle.”
“With the economic situation – as well as with state immigration laws that have passed – it is becoming more difficult for people to get work,” said Eduardo Crespi, director of Columbia’s Centro Latino, an organization that provides resources and guidance to the area’s Hispanics. “People are not able to send remittances because they don’t have the money to send remittances. That is what’s happening at the moment in our community.”
According to the World Bank, people living in Latin America received $61 billion in remittances in 2007 alone – more than East Asia and Europe combined and more than the entire continent of Africa. Remittances flowed to Mexico – the country of origin of most of Columbia’s Hispanic immigrant community – in the amount of $25 billion that year.
While some immigrants, such as Santana, are able to move from job to job with relative ease, others have to deal with very different circumstances.
Carlos, a native of Mexico who works at a Mexican restaurant in Columbia and asked that his last name be withheld because he is undocumented, said neither he nor his brother, who dug their way across the border, have been affected directly by the economic crisis.
The cost of gas, food and rent have increased since their arrival five years ago.
“Before, we could send $800 or $900 every 15 days. Now we send $500 every 15 days. Things are very expensive,” Carlos said. “Those of us who come here to work – it is always for our families. And when the economy is this low, it always causes shame because we can’t help our people the way we did three or four years ago.”
Carlos said that, as much as he recognizes that there is a problem, undocumented immigrants such as he are helpless.
“The undocumented, like me – we have always gotten the bottom of the barrel, the lowest pay, and by virtue of the fact that we don’t have papers, we can’t fix our situation," he said.
"Like it or not we have to deal with it. If they pay us $8 or $9 an hour, that’s how it will be, and we won’t quit because of that. It (the crisis) matters, but we can’t do anything."