Texas Matters
11:21 am
Fri December 7, 2012

Firsthand Looks At Central American Migrants And Working Poor In Texas

The number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has been declining since 2007; however, there has been an increase in migrants from other Central American countries, most of whom are teenagers. Being poor in Texas: Government assistance documentary, and a firsthand payday loan experience. Renewable energy continues to push forward as the Texas Renewable Energy Conference hits Austin next week.

Decreasing Number Of Undocumented Immigrants Living In US

Fronteras Reporter Erin Siegal:

The number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States is now estimated to be around 11 million, down from a peak of 12 million in 2007. For two years now, that number has held steady.

In the year 2000, a reported 770,000 immigrants came to the U.S. from Mexico. Most were unauthorized, but by 2012, that number had dropped significantly—and, the Pew Center reports, most of those people came to the United States legally.

"By 2010 the flow had dropped to less than 20 percent of what it was ten years earlier, or about 140,000 Mexicans coming to the United States," said Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center. "And the majority of them were coming as legal immigrants. So, a very profound change in the nature of migration from Mexico."

The study was based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Mexican immigrant numbers down, Central American migrants up

But as the number of undocumented people from Mexico drops there is an increase in the number of people from Central American nations – mainly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. This development is forcing the United State to change its tactics and move the front line to contain illegal immigration to Mexico’s southern border.

The independent nonprofit newsroom ProPublica published a new article about the changing shape of immigration.

Sebastian Rotella is the reporter who wrote the story: "The New Border: Illegal Immigration’s Shifting Frontier."

"You have a lot less Mexicans trying to come across the U.S. - Mexico border, and you have a far greater portion of people trying to come to the U.S. now illegally who are Central Americans. The number has almost doubled in the past year and the proportion is close to a third -- it used to be a fraction. These Central Americans are increasingly young -- they are people who are teenagers traveling by themselves. We always have the image of people traveling because of poverty... but what is striking in terms of what I've found in talking to migrants and talking to investigators and human rights advocates is that a lot of these young kids are driven by crime and violence. They are running from street gangs. Don't forget that Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have literally some of the highest homicide rates in the world, and some of the worst rates of impunity -- that is crimes that do not get solved."

It's not easy being poor in Texas

Texas has one of the lowest rates of spending on its citizens per capita and the highest share of those lacking health insurance. It doesn't provide a lot of support services to those in need; relatively few collect food stamps and qualifying for cash assistance is particularly tough.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 17% of Texans were living in poverty in 2011 compared to 14% nationwide. For many, being poor means working poor; having a job or two but still not being able to provide for your family.

A documentary called "A Fighting Chance" produced by the Austin-based Center for Public Policies Priorities takes a look at the lives of Texans dealing with the struggles of poverty.

Frances Deviney is a researcher at the Center for Public Policies Priorities and a co-producer of the documentary.

Payday loans: Confusing terms and extremely high-interest

Sometimes when money is low, people turn to payday loan businesses -- particularly during the holidays -- but paying back those quick and easy loans is often long and difficult. The loans are a poverty trap that local governments like in San Antonio and Austin have tried to control with city ordinances. However, because of state laws that benefit the highly profitable payday loan companies, they are still operating and charging high interest rates.

To get a close up look at how the payday loan business works, Texas Observer reporter Forrest Wilder decided to get one himself. He recounts how it went in his article, "Payday Loan Chain Owned by Major GOP Donor Skirts Texas Law."

Renewable energy still gaining ground

The promise of renewable energy is slowly being fulfilled and this coming week the Texas Renewable Energy Conference is being held. Being honored is Austin Energy’s former manager Roger Duncan.

Roger Duncan is President of the Pecan Street Project, a smart grid in initiative.

"The future everywhere is first, a transition to renewable energy from fossil fuels, and that will take some time. We're not going to be living off renewable as the majority of our fuel in the next few years, but everywhere there is a transition -- and there has to be  -- to renewable energy from fossil fuels. At the same time, we are starting to embed intelligence in our grid, in our appliances, at our homes in our meters... all of that is coming together in what we are calling a 'unified energy system,' and that means all the sectors of our energy -- the buildings, the power plants and the transportation systems -- are starting to talk to each other now." 

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