The recession and illegal immigrants: is it worth staying in the bad economy?


Elena’s family moved here from Aguas Calientes, Mexico 11 years ago. For Elena and her husband, things were good for a while. They both found steady work and successfully supported their family with a two-person income. But then economic circumstances changed and marital problems began, and Elena’s husband left her and her three daughters, aged 4, 7 and 9. Since then they have been experiencing some of the difficulties involved with living as illegal immigrants in a struggling community.

Elena worked as a single mom, but two years ago was laid off from her job in a curtain factory in Millersburg. Since then, she has struggled to provide for her family and has been trying to work things out with her husband. Elena’s eldest daughter suffered from a leg injury due to a car accident and needed to spend 15 days in the hospital. Elena herself has been treated for depression and dizziness. These conditions stacked against Elena and her family are difficult.

The recession has played a large role in Elena losing her job as well as the depression issue and money problems within her home.

Elena said in soft Spanish, “It’s hard to know what to do at this time. We’re from Mexico but we can’t go back there–we have built a life here and have a home here. Almost none of our family remain in Mexico.”

There is nothing for her and her family there—they have lived here the past 11 years and don’t have much to return to. She said she has considered moving her family to Canada.

“We can only move forward,” she said. “We can’t go back, and maybe we can’t stay here.”

On the other hand, Elena’s niece, Vanessa Martín, has taken the step in returning to her native Mexico with her family in tow. Vanessa’s husband couldn’t find work here in Indiana and neither could she.  So after months of searching and pulling resources, they decided to move back. They lived and raised their kids in Indiana for 20 years, but there was no other alternative, so the family left the only home the kids had ever known.

Jodi Birkey, a patient advocate at the Center for Healing and Hope, a non-profit clinic in downtown Goshen, said that the effects of the recession on the many illegal immigrants hasn’t been clearly visible within the numbers and treatments found at the clinic during the past year.

“Originally we thought we’d see an exodus of people, people leaving to go back to their countries,” Birkey said. “Or we’d see an over-flood of people in the clinic because they were being laid off. We didn’t see either; it’s actually stayed pretty steady.”

But some people have been leaving.

“A lot of single, older males that came over here to work, they have left to go back,” she said. “Most of the people that have families seem to be staying because their kids are still in school and they’re trying to make ends meet. There are a lot of cases of people moving into houses with each other. There’s a lot of families living together at this point because they can’t afford rent and food.”

Many of these immigrants, like Elena and Vanessa, are struggling to support their families and grappling with the tough decisions of whether or not to stay in Indiana or even in the United States. The recession has affected job availability and immigrant’s options for staying in the area.

Araceli Lepe, English Language Learners Academic Adviser, has noticed the decrease in enrollment of international students at Goshen High School.

“Regarding enrollment of international students, I have seen a slight decrease from past years,” said Lepe. “What I see happening is that we do lose students, but at the same time we are enrolling students from other areas including other states. Also, something interesting is that many families moved to a different state instead of moving to their home country. Some of the states that our students have moved to are Texas, California and Oklahoma.”

In a recent 2008-2009 demographic of limited English students in the Goshen Community School system, enrollment  has decreased by a couple hundred from the previous year; 1,810 students were enrolled in 2008 and 1,697 students in 2009.

Araceli Manriquez, immigration and naturalization counselor at the International Center of Goshen, has also seen how many families have been affected by the recession. Manriquez has been working with immigration issues for 11 years and has advocated for people who can not defend themselves in cases such as landlord issues, employer issues and attorney problems.

Manriquez is currently working on a case of a man from Mexico who had gained his citizenship in 2002 and had applied for his family.

“Recently he died of a heart attack, and attorneys he had working for him stopped the application process for his family just because he died,” Manriquez said.  “His family is left in Mexico, his wife is left with no job and is left to raise all her children.”

Manriquez decided to continue the application process for free and is fighting to bring the family here.

Along with working on cases for immigration, Manriquez also does bookkeeping for restaurants and shops in for the Hispanic community, many of which still remain open after the recession.

“Mostly all of the businesses I work with have survived the recession, and it has not affected them drastically,” she said.  “Some things that they changed were the cutting of hours and the shortening of menus.”

Written by Alysha Landis

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