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Immigrants continue to support two homes

Felicia Persaud | 4/25/2012, 6:37 p.m.
Letter No. 30: Immigration reform now!

Whoever said Caribbean and Latin American immigrants in the United States are dependent on handouts from the government need to catch up on the latest Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) group report on remittances.

According to the report, released March 8 by the IDB's Multilateral Investment Fund, remittances to Latin America and the Caribbean rose to $61 billion in 2011, up 6 percent from $57.6 billion in 2010. Most of the money came from migrants in the United States.

The numbers are a strong indicator of what many have argued all along: that immigrants in the United States, whether documented or not, are good for the economy. In this instance, it is clear that these migrants are supporting two homes--their own existence in the United States and that of their relatives and economies "back home."

The increase in money transfers to these regions is an ongoing upward trend that comes despite the poor economy.

Last year's increase started in mid-2010. In 2011, nearly every country in Latin America and the Caribbean received a greater dollar amount in remittances than the previous year, according to the IDB report. Mexico received the most of any Latin American nation--over $22 billion. That's from a group of some 12 million Mexicans, half of whom are considered undocumented.

In the Caribbean, the top recipient was the Dominican Republic, with over $3 billion, followed by Jamaica, with over $2 billion.

For many of these nations, remittances remain the largest source of foreign currency, higher in some instances than direct investment. And this money, often sent back weekly, comes largely from undocumented and blue-collar workers who have left close family members behind in pursuit of greener pastures.

Money transfer companies are growing richer daily on the backs of these migrants. According to Western Union, just one of the money transfer companies in this realm, it obtained revenues of over $1.43 billion in 2011 alone--a net income of $452.3 million.

So despite the brouhaha we hear from the right on illegal immigration, many are getting richer because of it. It is this economic argument for immigration that has to continue to be made. President Barack Obama should take note and use this strategy in his push for immigration reform, if he really is serious about this hot-button issue.

If blue-collar and undocumented workers can send back billions to their home regions while surviving in the United States, imagine how much more they would be able to contribute to the coffers of this country and their homelands if they could simply achieve legal status: a work permit and travel documents.

The numbers speak for themselves. It is time to quit scapegoating immigrants as benefiting from a system they are not paying into and face facts. The right and Democrats need to take notice and make economic sense of an issue that has been allowed for too long to be treated like a xenophobic football.

The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.