Image: Mexican hometowns listed
Dario Lopez-mills  /  AP file
The names of Mexican hometowns are etched in a portion of the border wall separating Mexico from the U.S. in Tijuana in February. Remittances sent home by Mexicans working abroad have fallen for the first time for six straight months, threatening local businesses, stalling construction and choking cash flow to tiny farming hamlets.
updated 7/30/2008 6:18:14 PM ET 2008-07-30T22:18:14

Money sent home by Mexican migrants declined by 2.2 percent in the first six months of 2008, the first sustained drop in more than a decade, Mexico's Central Bank reported Wednesday.

The downturn in U.S. housing construction and stepped-up U.S. immigration raids have made it tougher for migrants to find jobs, and less able to send home money.

Jesus Cervantes, director of economic measurement for the bank, said year-end figures are expected to continue this trend — the first sustained drop since 1995, when Mexico's central bank began keeping a tally.

Money sent home by Mexican migrants — also known as remittances — is the country's second-largest legal source of foreign income, after oil exports. And for years, it contributed to a growing Mexican economy: Annual remittances nearly tripled to almost $24 billion in 2007, from about $9 billion in 2001, amid improved reporting methods and an exodus of migrants from Mexico.

Now, businesses in many Mexican towns that came to rely on the cash flow are being forced to scale back — also because of the decline of the U.S. dollar, which has lost almost 8 percent of its value against the Mexican peso this year.

Agustin Escobar, an analyst with the Center for Investigations and Superior Studies in Social Anthropology, said Mexico's overall economy should withstand these pressures, but some families will be hit hard.

"It depends on the type of household," Escobar said. "For households that are largely dependent on remittances, their poverty is going to be felt sharply."

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