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Remittances to Mexico Exceed Investment as Source of Income

By Ginger Thompson

The New York Times -- MEXICO CITY

Nearly one Mexican in five regularly gets money from relatives employed in the United States, making Mexico the largest repository of such remittances in the world, according to a poll sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank.

The pollster, Sergio Bendixen, estimated that the payments help feed, house and educate at least a quarter of Mexico’s 100 million people.

The poll was part of a report on Monday by the bank, which said money sent home by all Mexican immigrants would soar to $14.5 billion this year, exceeding tourism and direct foreign investment to become this country’s second most important source of income. Oil remains No. 1.

Bendixen said the poll offered forceful evidence that remittances not only sustained this country’s rural poor but had also become important to urban working-class households.

Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, estimated that annual remittances to Mexico and Central America could reach $25 billion by the end of the decade, a vast sum made of countless tiny payments by America’s lowest paid workers.

“This is not necessarily something to celebrate,” said Don Terry, manager of the Multilateral Investment Fund. “It means that the Mexican economy is not expanding, and so people have had to leave.”

Indeed, in addition to showing a significant jump in remittances, the report opened a window onto the shifts in illegal immigration to the United States since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In the wake of the attacks, the United States almost immediately dispatched more staff members and machinery to bolster law enforcement operations on its border with Mexico, and it was believed that the heightened security would discourage immigrants from illegal crossing.

With fewer immigrants heading north, experts on both sides of the border predicted, remittances to Latin America would sharply decline. And the shrinking American economy was expected to force immigrants out of work, leaving them less money to send home.

Those forecasts, according to the Inter-American Development Bank and immigration experts, have proved wrong.