updated 11/23/2008 1:09:54 PM ET 2008-11-23T18:09:54

Many Mexicans increasingly feel unwelcome in Colorado because of a perceived anti-immigrant sentiment, and some are looking back home for opportunities as the U.S. economy sours, Denver's Mexican consul general says.

"What I've found is that in our communities, with few exceptions, there's a sense that the state (of Colorado) is not friendly toward immigrants, that they don't feel welcomed and that they encounter this feeling of, 'I don't like you but I need you,'" Eduardo Arnal said during a recent interview.

Arnal said that in his travels around Colorado people tell him about losing their jobs as the state's major employers — the construction and service industries — have seen a decline.

"We don't have statistics, but I can tell you with certainty that Mexicans are abandoning Colorado," he said. Some, he said, are "considering returning to Mexico definitely."

Census numbers suggest drop, too
The U.S. Census suggests a drop, too. According to its data, there were an estimated 240,754 Mexicans in Colorado in 2005. That number increased in 2006 to 254,844 but fell to an estimated 243,253 in 2007.

Arnal, a former Mexican congressman and member of President Felipe Calderon's transition team, was named Denver's consul general in August 2007. His office serves Colorado, and he supervises consulates in Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Nebraska, Idaho, South Dakota and North Dakota.

To date, Arnal has visited 59 of the state's 64 counties. It is partly from those visits, aimed at establishing ties with local law enforcement and businesses, that he has drawn his own conclusions about the feelings of Mexican immigrants.

Arnal points to a series of immigration bills passed in 2006 during a special legislative session as one reason many Mexicans feel marginalized.

One law created a state patrol unit with the authority to enforce immigration law during routine patrols and curb human smuggling. The unit has arrested more than 930 suspected illegal immigrants since July 2007.

New laws add to tension
Another law barred immigrants from receiving some state services unless they prove they are in the country legally. Also in 2006, but during a regular legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill requiring police to report anyone they believe to be in the country illegally to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"There are situations where people live in fear because they think that there are all of these pretexts in day-to-day life that can be used to report them to immigration authorities," Arnal said.

Arnal said one of his goals is to make Coloradans aware of Mexico's contribution to their economy.

Mexico is Colorado's second biggest trading partner after Canada — trade totaled $950 million in 2007 — and is the state's top source for agricultural products, Arnal said.

Mexico is the United States' third largest trading partner.

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