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By 9 a.m. on a cold Monday morning, Rafael Novarro has already put in a four-hour day waiting for work that never comes. Laid off three months earlier as a carpet installer, the El Salvadoran immigrant regularly joins a group of immigrants standing at the edge of a gas station in Carbondale, Colo. They hope contractors will stop and offer jobs, even if the wages pale in comparison to just a few months ago. Every rumbling diesel truck offers hope, but each one pulls away again, and this crowd of 10 men, many wearing work boots, their work gloves stashed in their pockets, sweatshirt hoods pulled over their heads against the cold, remain behind. “Almost nobody has any work,” says Rigoberto Leon Ruiz, one of the men waiting. It’s a scene common in cities like Los Angeles or Houston but until recently unheard of in places like Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, home to Aspen, where jobs were abundant and employers relied on immigrants to fill work crews. The economic downturn has hammered the West’s resort economy, though, and it has hit immigrants particularly hard. More than others, they rely on jobs in the struggling construction and service industries. Those here illegally lack the cushion of unemployment benefits. From Las Vegas to Jackson Hole, Wyo., many across the West are going home. Some set out in search of jobs in other states. Others hang on, relying on the kindness of friends and family, and hoping for better times ahead. “If not,” Novarro says, “I’m going back to El Salvador soon, because I can’t stay here without work – without anything.”

Feeling Recession’s Sting, Some Immigrants Going Home

By 9 a.m. on a cold Monday morning, Rafael Novarro has already put in a four-hour day waiting for work that never comes.

Laid off three months earlier as a carpet installer, the El Salvadoran immigrant regularly joins a group of immigrants standing at the edge of a gas station in Carbondale, Colo. They hope contractors will stop and offer jobs, even if the wages pale in comparison to just a few months ago. Every rumbling diesel truck offers hope, but each one pulls away again, and this crowd of 10 men, many wearing work boots, their work gloves stashed in their pockets, sweatshirt hoods pulled over their heads against the cold, remain behind.

“Almost nobody has any work,” says Rigoberto Leon Ruiz, one of the men waiting.

It’s a scene common in cities like Los Angeles or Houston but until recently unheard of in places like Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, home to Aspen, where jobs were abundant and employers relied on immigrants to fill work crews. The economic downturn has hammered the West’s resort economy, though, and it has hit immigrants particularly hard. More than others, they rely on jobs in the struggling construction and service industries. Those here illegally lack the cushion of unemployment benefits.

From Las Vegas to Jackson Hole, Wyo., many across the West are going home. Some set out in search of jobs in other states. Others hang on, relying on the kindness of friends and family, and hoping for better times ahead. “If not,” Novarro says, “I’m going back to El Salvador soon, because I can’t stay here without work – without anything.”

The number of returnees is likely to pick up as the recession deepens, says Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan Washington think tank.

“They’re the most vulnerable group,” Papademetriou says. “They’re overrepresented, in some cases extremely overrepresented, in the industries that lost massive numbers of jobs and continue to lose jobs. … The ones that bled early and bled deep continue to bleed today. The same types of people that got hurt early continue to get hurt today.”

In a study released Tuesday, the Pew Hispanic Center found illegal immigrants were more likely to be unemployed than citizens or legal immigrants. Unemployment among illegal immigrants was 6.5 percent, compared to 5.6 percent for other groups. That’s a switch from four years ago, when illegal immigrants had the lowest unemployment rate of anyone.

The once-rapid pace of immigration has subsided, the report found, but illegal immigrants still make up one in 10 workers in Arizona and Nevada, over 4.5 percent of the workers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, and over 3 percent in Idaho. One in every five construction workers and service workers across the country are illegal immigrants. Those numbers are likely much higher in parts of the West where immigration has increased dramatically to satisfy the resort boom.

But those plentiful jobs have disappeared. Basalt, Colo., resident Jonathan Arranda counts 10 acquaintances who have headed south of the border, in some cases leaving behind homes and cars they can’t afford. “There’s very little work and more people looking for work,” he says.

Eduardo Arnal, Mexico’s consul general in Denver, whose office services Colorado and eastern Wyoming, says he’s hearing from more Mexican immigrants planning to return. The office used to get just a few requests each week for a procedure that allows Mexican citizens to take household goods home duty-free, he says. Those requests have jumped to one or two a day – a good indicator of interest in returning home.

“They have been really hit by the crisis,” Arnal says. “In some cases they decided to go to other states and Canada looking for opportunities, and sometimes they go back to Mexico.”

Some who stay behind move into tighter quarters to reduce expenses. “If two or three families live in one house, if one family has nothing, one helps the other,” says Antonio Torres, of Glenwood Springs, Colo.

For some, it’s a temporary measure until they can see if work will pick up in the spring, or if they should pack their bags and head home.

“Many of them are likely to be unemployed and in a downward spiral in terms of income and jobs for about a year now,” Papademetriou says. “I imagine some have reached the nadir – the lowest point – in terms of staying here and, really, barely surviving amid a possibly increasingly unfriendly climate.”

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13 comments

  1. Tim Kaine: Call your office!

  2. Dont let the door hit you in the ass!!!!

    Mr.Weenz

  3. Jay Larry Lundeen

    Give me a moment to wipe my tears. . . There I’m OK, now. It’s sad when I read about “visitors” to America and their documented problems (unlike their undocumented entries).

    It’s sad, also, when I think that 29% of America’s federal prisons are filled with illegal aliens. In just California alone, it cost $10.5 billion to house illegals in its prisons. Now there’s a Kleenex moment, at least for taxpayers.

    It also costs Americans hundreds of billions of dollars each year to treat illegals in US hospitals. Any guesses on the staggering outflow of money from American social services each year generated by “undocumented guests”?

    Any article concerning illegal aliens which does not reflect on all aspects of American immigration problems can be viewed as incomplete at best, or pushing an agenda at worst.

  4. The state of Idaho is cutting its K-12 education budget this year, but not the LEP (students who speak a foreign language first) funding in schools. This means if you have a child in Idaho’s public schools, and they speak English as their native language, then he or she will suffer reduced services.

    If, on the other hand, your child speaks Spanish as his first language, then his funding ($200 million dollars) is intact. Why? The federal government MAKES Idaho spend this money and not cut the level, despite this inequality. The spending only goes down if the numbers of these students leave.

    While it is for sure a small portion of these students are in fact American, 85% of these students speak Spanish and the nearest second largest language spoken before English is Shoshone and it’s less than 2%. These statistics from the Idaho Department of Education.

    I’m sorry, but citizens and legal immigrants first in times such as these.

  5. you don’t have to say “el”, just salvadorean.

  6. Thousands of illegal immigrants haunt the streets and country lanes of the Northern California’s Central Valley. The rich farmers, ranchers, and contractors, especially those that didn’t/don’t want to pay a living wage to American workers, imported these people, and now they have no work for them. They are doing nothing for these people now that they’ve had their use of them.

    That said, what is going to happen when these people who have no legal rights to any type of safety net, no money, no food, no rent, with many that have had several children on our dime already, what’s going to happen to them? I’ll tell you. Crime is up 50% in some areas. Home invasions, burglaries, thefts, and robberies, the majority committed by illegal aliens.

    It was a mistake to allow the greedy Repiglians who used these workers, to allow them to employ them in the first place. They should, one and all, be made to pay for tickets home for all of them not legally entitled to be here.

  7. Looks like we will have a chance to see if our economy will come to a standstill if all the illegals leave.

  8. Jay WInter Nightwolf

    Let me be the first to inform you that all of those that you claim to be illegal ARE NOT undocumented. Let also point out to you that before the European invaders showed up on the shores of our homelands and pristine waters, there were no borders. The Canadian border and the Mexican borders did not exist before the arrival of greed and arrogance brought by Europeans. So get off of the rhetoric. Those human beings that you label as illegal are not illegal afterall. Maybe if you remove your borders and allow things to be as they were before you came here, then the world will be able to see who THE REAL ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS ARE – the European invader and their white descendants. Study history and not the history written by the white man and you will understand the point I have previously made. If you want to hear more of these truths then I would encourage you to tune in every Friday evening 7 – 8 EST and listen to “The American Indian’s Truths – Nightwolf – …..the Most Dangerous Show On Radio” WPFW 89.3 FM – Pacifica Radio – Washington, D. C. or go the the internet and punch in http://www.WPFW.org.

  9. So then everybody agrees? We’ll consolidate all 3 countries, discard the worst characteristics of each, keep the best of each and call the new country Canamexico!

  10. Well, Mr. Nightwolf, whether you or I like it or not, this is a nation of laws. Those that are here illegally, are violating those laws. Simple as that.

    As far as your “history lesson” goes, I am well aware of what happened. But what happened 300 or 400 years ago, neither you, nor I, can change. The surest way to make enemies for your cause, is to blame the innocent and blameless. I am no more to blame for the crimes of my ancestors, than you are.

    Some things we can change, and some we cannot. Rather than spend our precious time on this planet trying to address issues that cannot be changed, I think it better to work for changes that can happen. Nonetheless, I wish you the best.

  11. Jay WInter Nightwolf

    T. Bass you make a lot of sense. One of the realities that I have come to live with is that if you are a white descendant of the European invaders, then I cannot hold you responsible for what your ancestors did to my ancestors nor can you hold me responsible for what my ancestors in retaliation did to yours. WE WERE NOT THERE!!!

    However, what I can hold you personally responsible for is if you see my people still being taken advantage of, murdered, deprived of the basic needs of life AND YOU DON’T STEP IN TO OFFER SOME FORM OF RELIEF, then not only will I hold you responsible, the entire “Human Family” will judge your actions. Have a nice day my friend.

  12. Mr. Nightwolf…. Fair enough. You’ll be happy to know, that my “white” family has for years fought injustices against Native Americans. I was raised near the Stewart Reservation School, in Carson City, Nevada, and saw first hand at a young age (back in the 50’s) the injustices committed against native peoples.

    My mother also worked for years as a part of a team that successfully won millions for the Washo(e) and Shoshone tribes, as (part) compensation for the lands stolen from them. It was during this time that I learned their histories, as it was my mother’s job to research them, as well as the atrocities committed against them.

    That said, long ago I came under the spell of Native American spiritualism and view of the natural world, eschewing the “white man’s” religion and descration, and to this day, continue to practice it.

    I am at peace with myself, and with my family, in regards to our relations with Native American peoples, and will continue to seek justice and recognition for them. I value highly the friendships I have made over the years with my Native American friends, and will always remain cognizant that the blood that runs in their veins, is from the “old ones”, who knew this land well before it was ruined.

    Take care, and all the best to you. – T. Bass

  13. All well and said. However we are all immigrants here, Indians as well. As for the current situation of unemployed, undocumented workers you can blame the Congress for not enforcing our laws and not leveling heavy fines on those employing them. Who is going to pay for all this now?? YOU, Joe Blow American.

    Borders?? You have to be kidding, what borders, this place is wide open. Don’t worry about white Europeans here, we are being over run and will be a minority real soon and then I wonder how the new majority will treat us?