Local immigrants hit particularly hard by Great Recession

by Clara H. Vaughn

A tenant at Pine Ridge apartment, 68 years old, cleans houses two days a week, earning $60 each week. Her son, 36, is the family’s primary breadwinner, but has had trouble finding work since the recession hit.

“It’s hard to reconcile our ideas of the U.S. with the reality,” translated Renato Mendoza, Montgomery County tenant organizer at Casa of Maryland, for the Latina tenant, who spoke on the condition of remaining anonymous.

She, her son and her daughter-in-law moved to the United States 13 years ago to support their family in El Salvador. They planned to move back after they had earned enough money to build a house there.

“Because of the trouble we’ve had here, we’re forced to stay,” she said. “If I had the money, I’d already be home.”

Her son lost a construction job he had worked since 1999 because of the economy’s decline. He went a year and a half without work.

The tenant used much of her savings to pay for food and rent, leaving little to send home to her family in El Salvador.

“Before my son lost his job, I’d confidently go to the store and buy $200 of food for the family. Now, it’s more day-by-day,” she said.

Her son found work trimming branches from power lines in early April, but work is unstable.

“It varies depending on the week. Some days, like today, it rains, so they don’t work,” the tenant said.

He feared taking more than three days off work to recover after a car accident because he was afraid of losing his job, she said.

The family has experienced stress and depression while struggling to pay their bills, she said.

“We weren’t succeeding the way we imagined it, but we were living moderately” before the recession, she said.

This is not an uncommon story among Latino immigrants, said Sonia Mora, manager for the Latino Health Initiative, and Gustavo Torres, executive director of Casa of Maryland.

Both Mora and Torres said they have seen a shift Montgomery County’s Latino community with the economic recession.

“We see people who are leaving the country, we see people who are moving to a lot of different places,” Torres said.

The Pine Ridge tenant said many of her friends and neighbors returned to their home countries or moved to other states when the recession hit.

“I think everybody has been impacted, the Latinos in particular,” Mora said.

Many Montgomery County Latinos, however, have weathered the recession.     Some move in with family members or friends to defray housing costs, Mora said.
“People will do whatever they need to do,” she said. “They come together to support each other.”

Mora said immigrants have continued to come to Montgomery County because of its more immigrant-friendly social structures, including public transportation and higher quality of life than other areas.

Anti-immigration legislation in other states also drives immigrants to Maryland from states like Alabama and South Carolina, Torres and Mora said.

Torres said he has not seen a significant change in the numbers of Latinos living in Montgomery County because of these draws.