... 5511140323

Migrants may leave countries battered by weather

Diana Washington Valdez
El Paso Times

North America's recent hurricanes likely will result in more immigrants from weather- ravaged countries trying to head north of the U.S.-Mexico border, while U.S. cars damaged by Katrina make their way to markets south of the border.

Since Oct. 1, when the new federal fiscal year began, Border and Customs Protection agents have intercepted several hundred undocumented Central Americans in the El Paso region, Ramiro Cordero, senior patrol agent, said.

"We have encountered 878 non-Mexican illegal immigrants in the El Paso sector, and most of them are Central Americans," Cordero said. "None of them has made any claim for protective status of any kind due to the hurricanes. We won't be able to tell until the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30) whether this was a spike in the number of Central American immigrants.

"So much of the migrations depend on what the smugglers are doing. For example, we might get a wave of Brazilians, and then all of a sudden we won't get any because they're all going through the McAllen border," he said.

Of the non-Mexican immigrants that were caught entering the U.S. illegally through the El Paso sector since last month, 265 were Guatemalans, 310 were from El Salvador, 133 were from Honduras and 16 were from Nicaragua.

Those regions were devastated by hurricanes Stan and Wilma, which also struck Mexico's southeastern coastal states.

The countries estimated that between 800 and 2,000 people were killed as a result of the hurricanes, and initial estimates of the damage ranged from $3.8 to $5 billion, according to a special report by New Mexico State University's Frontera Norte-Sur news service.

The damage to the Mexican state of Chiapas includes 21,000 lost homes, and officials said repairs could take as long as seven months. As a result, some officials said "the regional devastation could result in a new wave of environmental refugees finding their way soon to the Mexico-U.S. borderlands," Frontera Norte-Sur reported.

Cheryl Howard, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, said population migrations that stem from natural disasters may be affected by various push and pull factors.

Push factors can include conditions like war and disasters that force people to leave, and pull factors such as job opportunities or higher wages that make other places appealing.

"It's often the poorest of the poor who get displaced," she said.

Some Central Americans and residents of southern Mexico could head to South America or North America, but only after considering whether they could afford to leave their regions and if the obstacles don't outnumber the benefits, she said.

"What tends to happen in these situations is that they might migrate in steps, first to the nearest largest city, and then to another place if that doesn't work out," she said.

Hurricane activity north of the border is creating a different challenge for car dealers along the Mexican side of the border, said Arnulfo Ruezga, president of the Federation of Border Automotive Business Associations.

"Automobile buyers need to be on the lookout for vehicles that were damaged by flooding from hurricanes like Katrina in Louisiana," said Ruezga, who lives in Juárez and whose organization represents 3,600 registered border auto dealers from Tijuana to Matamoros.

"We won't begin seeing them cross the border into Mexico until the U.S. insurance companies clear out the inventory of damaged vehicles," he said. "I can assure you that none of our registered dealers will try to sell such cars to unknowing buyers. Your clandestine sellers, that's another matter."

Mexican border car dealers have been warning the public to beware of the U.S. cars that may enter Mexico's interior markets later. They said most of the flood-damaged cars will be destined for junkyards and should have a seal designating them as salvage autos when they cross the border.