Economy drives Prince George's couple back to El Salvador

Jose and Maria Campos relax in their San Salvador home, which they spent years remodeling and moved to from a basement apartment in Langley Park. Still, they miss the United States and regret leaving.
Jose and Maria Campos relax in their San Salvador home, which they spent years remodeling and moved to from a basement apartment in Langley Park. Still, they miss the United States and regret leaving. (Mauricio Díaz For The Gazette)
By Elahe Izadi
The Gazette
Thursday, March 18, 2010

SAN SALVADOR -- When Jose and Maria Campos moved to El Salvador from a basement apartment in Langley Park in October, they moved into the spacious three-story house they spent nine years remodeling from thousands of miles away. It has a balcony and a garage, and cost them more than $60,000.

They now spend evenings on their breezy terrace overlooking their neighborhood on the outskirts of San Salvador, which they said has changed almost beyond recognition. And when the couple talk about the Potomac River or traveling along University Boulevard in Silver Spring, their eyes light up. They look like immigrants talking about home while living in a foreign land.

"I came back, but I didn't come back willingly," Maria, 59, said in Spanish. "I came back because we had to."

Like many immigrants in Prince George's County, Jose, 59, couldn't find a steady job in the decimated American job market. But unlike many Latino immigrants who are riding out the recession, Jose and Maria returned to their homeland.

Although happy to live near their children and grandchildren, they regret the choice they've made. They worry about how they will support themselves, even feed themselves, in El Salvador's even harsher economic climate.

Despite the recession and lack of jobs, few Latino immigrants say they will return to their home countries as Jose and Maria did.

An August 2009 survey by the nonprofit think tank Inter-American Dialogue found that one-third of Latino immigrants wished to return to their home countries in the next five years, but only 5 percent said they would leave due to the lack of jobs in the United States.

The most common reason: to reunite with families. The bad economy, however, contributes to a general feeling of anxiety.

"In our results, the percentage of people who wanted to return was not low, it was high. It doesn't mean they will. It just means the state of anxiety you're faced with means it makes you consider returning," said Manuel Orozco, remittances and development program director at Inter-American Dialogue. "When we ask them if they were planning to return, 27 percent of Salvadorans said yes. A year ago, it was 20 percent. So it's only an indicator that you are concerned."

It's unclear whether Salvadorans are still migrating to the United States in the same numbers as they did before the recession. One of the best ways to track migration trends is through the amount of remittances -- the money sent from immigrants to their home countries, according to Katharine Andrade-Eelchoff, a former professor and researcher at the Universidad Centroamericana. The $3.788 billion sent in remittance money from the United States to El Salvador in 2008 dwindled to $3.465 billion in 2009, an 8.5 percent drop, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.

At the Casa de Maryland Workers' Center in Langley Park, more people are waiting for fewer jobs, says André Vainqueur, manager of the center.

Jose Campos went to the workers' centers in Langley Park and Silver Spring often when he lived in America. He visited the Langley Park center the week he flew back to El Salvador to say goodbye to the people who run the center.


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