A story from Mexico-based reporter Elisabeth Malkin on Friday's front page trawls for sympathy for poor Mexicans who come to the United States illegally to find work. Malkin went to the town of El Rodeo to find that "Mexicans Miss Money From Workers Up North." (That would be the United States.)
At first glance this would seem to be a problem for Mexico. After all, who are we to interfere in another country's internal affairs, the Times editorial page might argue, as it has on myriad issues in the past.
"For years, millions of Mexican migrants working in the United States have sent money back home to villages like this one, money that allows families to pay medical bills and school fees, build houses and buy clothes or, if they save enough, maybe start a tiny business.
"But after years of strong increases, the amount of migrant money flowing to Mexico has stagnated. From 2000 to 2006, remittances grew to nearly $24 billion a year from $6.6 billion, rising more than 20 percent some years. In 2007, the increase so far has been less than 2 percent.
"Migrants and migration experts say a flagging American economy and an enforcement campaign against illegal workers in the United States have persuaded some migrants not to try to cross the border illegally to look for work. Others have decided to return to Mexico. And many of those who are staying in the United States are sending less money home.
"In the rest of the world, remittances are rising, up as much as 10 percent a year, according to Donald F. Terry of the Inter-American Development Bank. Last year, migrant workers worldwide sent more than $300 billion to developing countries -- almost twice the amount of foreign direct investment.
"But in Mexico, families are feeling squeezed.
"Estrella Rivera, a slight 27-year-old in this stone-paved village in Guanajuato state in central Mexico, was hoping to use the money her husband, Alonso, sent back from working illegally in Texas to build a small clothing shop at the edge of her garden.
"But a month ago, Mr. Rivera returned home. His hours at a Dallas window-screen factory were cut and rumors spread that he would inevitably have to produce a valid Social Security number. "
The horror! Later on we learn:
"Many experts say it is too early to know if the negligible increase in remittances will continue. Some argue it was to be expected: much of the initial spike in money transfers had resulted from better accounting. In addition, earlier waves of migrants are returning to the houses they built, or they have managed to legalize their status in the United States and bring their families, sending less money back.
"But the events of the last year in the United States, political and economic, have also clouded the prospects of many illegal Mexican workers. New walls, new guards and new equipment at the border have dissuaded many from trying to cross and raised the cost for those who try to as much as $2,800. Workplace raids and stories of summary deportations stoke fears among Mexicans on both sides of the border.
Reporter Julia Preston wrote a similar hand-wringing piece August 9 on the same subject and concluded:
"Remittances to Mexico have become vital to the economics of the country's poorest regions, bank officials said. The money pays for drinking-water systems, roads, care for older people and other needs in villages and working-class neighborhoods."
Times Watch will once again ask the obvious question the Times never does: Isn't the plight of poor Mexicans properly the responsibility of Mexico?