Families of Mexican origin contribute hundreds of billions of dollars annually to the US economy, Mexico President Felipe Calderón said in a speech in New Orleans on Monday, April 21. Calderón, along with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, were in the US for the North American Leaders’ Summit.
"The U.S. and Mexican economy complement one another; with the U.S. being capital-intensive and the Mexican labor-intensive," said Calderón. "And that explains immigration, an economic phenomenon between two neighboring economies. And for that reason we need to create an integral vision on the issue of migration – one that will permit us to jointly construct a more prosperous and secure North America."
Mexican immigrants have had a hand in rebuilding New Orleans, with 30,000 Mexicans now in the region. Before Hurricane Katrina, only 3 percent of the city were Latinos.
The Summit was arranged by President George Bush. For his part, he praised Calderón for fighting against drug traffickers. He urged congresses in the US and Mexico to approve the Merida Initiative, an effort to help Mexico in their fight against drug gangs.
"It’s in our interests that we fund the joint initiative," Mr. Bush said. "We’ve got to work hard on our side to make sure that we reduce our drug use, and at the same time work with you in close coordination to defeat these drug traffickers." The Initiative will cost $1.4 billion.
Calderón is grateful that the US is stemming the flow of illegal weapons into Mexico, where there have been more than 5,000 killings at the hands of drug traffickers in the last two years.
Calderón did not leave the immigration issue unaddressed. "I understand that the United States is going through an electoral process and we respect that process, of course," he said. "But I do want to point out that it’s very important for my administration for us to find a solution to this issue – and a solution that will not just find a way to deal with the immigration problem, but one that will do so with respect and responsibility."
Nationwide, Mexicans make up 5 percent of the US workforce, but they have been falling on hard times, right along with the faltering US economy.
The official Bank of Mexico noted that remittances from workers abroad, mostly in the US, fell by 2.76 percent during the first two months of 2008 compared with the same period of 2007. Sent in 9.8 million operations, this year’s remittance averaged $343.21, or 0.02 percent less than the average remittance sent in January and February of 2007. Tracked by the Bank of Mexico, remittances for the first two months of 2008 totaled $3.39 billion. The latest figure reflected a noticeable slowdown from 2007, a year when remittances reached an annual sum of nearly $24 billion.
Taking into account the weak dollar, the remittance downturn is even worse than the official numbers suggest, as today’s dollar buys fewer pesos, even as prices escalate for all manner of goods in Mexico.