Latin American immigrants in the Washington area are sending more cash back to the countries they came from than immigrants living in other parts of the United States.

The Inter-American Development Bank studies remittances, or money sent by U.S immigrants to the country of their birth. It found that Latin American immigrants in Maryland lead the nation, each sending an average of $2,897 in 2004. Virginia was fifth, with $2,671 in remittances per Latin American immigrant, and the District came in sixth, with $2,629.

Development experts consider remittances a key way to alleviate poverty and spur growth in the developing world; the IADB found that Latin American immigrants in the United States are on track to send $30.1 billion home this year. The biggest recipients are Mexico, at $13.3 billion, and Brazil, at $5.2 billion.

Remittances by immigrants do amount to a drain, albeit a mild one, on the Washington area economy. The $1.2 billion that Latinos in Maryland, Virginia and the District sent outside the United States was, after all, money not spent in the United States. But that amounts to only about two-tenths of 1 percent of the $482 billion in personal income earned by all residents of the three states.

-- Neil Irwin