Carlos Valdez cuts tobacco in Shelbyville, Ky. Valdez is a migrant worker who has been working in Kentucky tobacco fields for three years. Workers like Valdez are part of the economies of small towns across the U.S. and Mexico.
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Talea del Castro emigrant and Los Angeles citizen Lucas Cruz suggests that if the U.S. government wants to reduce Mexican immigration, it should support projects that allow people to make a living at home in the countryside. Coffee-price supports for small producers would help. He’d also like to find nonpolluting types of small industry for the eight months between coffee harvests.

For poorer regions like the Mixteca region of Oaxaca, projects such as one that Cruz worked on might offer alternatives. The particular zone involved is so hot and dry that about the only thing that grows there is cactus. So the project planted areas with nopal forajero, a variety of cactus that has no spines. Six or seven years after it is planted, livestock can be introduced into the area to graze on the plant, which stores water.

At the 1995 United Nations summit on development, a Latin American commission suggested increasing productivity among the poor by, among other measures, “access to credit, technical aid, and systems to commercialize and distribute the goods of small- and medium-sized producers.”

Cutting social benefits for immigrants to the United States will not make much difference, Cruz believes, because Mexicans come here to work.

“The idea that people come to the U.S. for welfare is foolish. In Mexico, nobody has even heard of welfare or social security or other benefits.”

Remittances by Mexicans in the United States allow many others at home to survive without emigrating. The $2 billion to $3 billion that Mexican workers send back annually is the fourth-largest source of foreign exchange for Mexico. One study estimates that the multiplier effect of these “migradollars” generates economic activity accounting for 10 percent of the nation’s output.

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