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Mexicans Get Less Aid From Migrants

In Lo de Luna, Ernesto Hernández, 80, has been unable to afford his medicine since his son lost his home in the United States to foreclosure.
In Lo de Luna, Ernesto Hernández, 80, has been unable to afford his medicine since his son lost his home in the United States to foreclosure. (By Manuel Roig-franzia -- The Washington Post)
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The profile of Mexican migrants to the United States has changed dramatically in the past four decades. Today it is common for entire families to cross the border looking for work. Women -- who made up only 10 percent of migrants in the 1970s -- currently account for about half of the migrant population, according to the World Bank.

The exodus of whole families has emptied small towns. The populations decreased in 54 of 58 Zacatecas municipalities between 2000 and 2005, according to University of Zacatecas statistics. More Zacatecans live in the Los Angeles area, one of the flash points in the subprime mortgage breakdown, than in the city of Zacatecas, which has a population of 122,000. About 1.8 million Zacatecans and their descendants live in the United States, compared with 1.4 million still in Mexico.

Approximately 300 schools have closed here since the 1970s, Padilla said. Frequently, the only family members left behind are the elderly and infirm.

At the entrance to Ermita de Guadalupe, a village of 2,000 in Zacatecas state with perpetually empty streets, the old men linger on park benches, leaning on canes and worrying about their children's problems in the United States. Carlos Trujillo Landeros, 76, could once count on several hundred dollars a month being sent to him from three grandsons -- two are garbage collectors in Las Vegas and the third is a laborer in Sacramento.

But one of "the boys," as Trujillo calls them, lost his home to foreclosure, and they have all had their work hours cut back. Now, the money trickles in. Instead of getting $400 or $500 a month, Trujillo gets as little as $50.

Trujillo -- a former migrant who lost the use of his right leg because of an infection he developed while picking oranges in California in the 1960s -- can't keep up with his medical bills. His adult daughter, who is mentally disabled, requires hundreds of dollars a month in medicine, his wife just underwent an expensive stomach operation, and Trujillo takes medication for high blood pressure.

Like many elderly here, he was forced to seek help from a growing underground network of illegal loan sharks who feed off the desperation of migrants' families. Trujillo is now $8,000 in debt and can barely make the 15 percent interest payments, he said.

"I owe here, I owe there," he said. "I owe everywhere."

On the highway to Ermita de Guadalupe, a dirt road cuts through miles of nopal cactuses and ends at Lo de Luna, a village with a population of 130. Ernesto Hernández tries to work his 17-acre plot, which he received a quarter-century ago as part of a measure that granted farmland to Mexican peasants. But he tires more quickly with each passing year.

In his day, Hernández made several trips to the United States, picking tomatoes and beets in the long-defunct bracero guest-worker program. He made a few dollars, but never enough to do more than get by. Still, he understood when his son, Alfonso, announced that he was going to the United States "for a little while."

That was 23 years ago. Since then, Alfonso has returned only for short visits.

"What else was he going to do?" Hernández said. "There's nothing here."

Alfonso was faithfully sending home $100 a month until late last year, when he lost his home in a Los Angeles suburb to foreclosure, his father said. Now no money comes. The sons of at least three of Hernández's elderly neighbors have also lost their homes, their jobs or both, he said. The river of money from the United States that sustained this village is now drier than the desert that surrounds it.

But the horror stories of lost jobs and foreclosed homes have done nothing to dissuade the few working-age men remaining in Lo de Luna. A few nights ago, Hernández and other villagers said, five men left Lo de Luna in hopes of sneaking into the United States.

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