Monday, March 9, 2009

The Flight From Mexico

I've had the privledge of coaching my daughter's basketball team for the past several years. Last year, we fielded a very talented team. Three of the girls were from Mexico and were absolutely wonderful and were great contributors to the team. Their families live in our north Houston suburb, while their fathers commute to Mexico every week for business. The mothers stated that it just wasn't safe to live in Mexico because people with money are ransom targets. Over the years, I've been amazed at how many families do this. Obviously, they are the privledged few.

The Houston Chronicle reported this story today:
The rich flee Mexico drug violence
Fearing for their lives, affluent seek asylum in Houston, other Texas cities
By JAMES PINKERTONCopyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
March 8, 2009, 11:23PM
Mexican businessman Jorge Hernandez abruptly relocated his family to Houston last year, terrified that family members would be abducted by kidnappers. He had ample reason to be afraid. He left in August, days after a father was kidnapped for ransom as he dropped his child off at the same school Hernandez’s children attended in a north Mexico city. “One night, I told my wife ‘Pack the bags — we’re leaving,’" Hernandez said. “The fear we felt caused us to get in the car and drive for 12 hours to get to Houston.”

The 43-year-old businessman joined a growing number of affluent and middle-class Mexicans fleeing comfortable lives in Mexico for the comparative safety of Houston and other major Texas cities. They are desperate to escape an unprecedented wave of lawlessness in their home country where warring drug cartels — whose fighting claimed more than 6,000 victims last year — have also taken up kidnapping as a lucrative business.

Monterrey, the nation’s third-largest city and Mexico’s industrial powerhouse, had two kidnappings a day last year, according to the El Manana newspaper. Businessmen like Hernandez have been joined by hundreds or perhaps thousands of middle-class Mexicans seeking asylum at U.S. ports of entry across from Mexican border towns where violent gunbattles have raged. Last year, 2,231 Mexican citizens sought asylum in the U.S., a significant increase from 1,366 in 2006. “It seems to me there are more people coming now than there have been in the last couple of years, and the flow is increasing,” said John W. Meyer, a Houston immigration lawyer hired by Hernandez to process his visa.

Most of these Mexican expatriates are business owners who can afford to commute to Mexico several days a week and can enroll their children in private schools and buy homes in Houston. Many Mexicans who qualify for work or investor visas have settled in neighborhoods near the Galleria and The Woodlands, officials said. “We’ve seen some of that increase over the last couple of years,” said Nick Wolda, president of the visitor’s bureau in The Woodlands. “For the Mexican audience, The Woodlands is a desirable location: the schools, the parks, the pathways. What we’re finding is people coming here are investing in businesses, or being transferred from companies.”

Meanwhile, many Mexicans in border towns wracked by violence are crossing international bridges and requesting asylum. “We have seen an increase in the number of asylum claims at our ports of entry, and this is one factor among a number that we are seeing as part of the situation along the border,” said Mike Friel, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In El Paso, asylum claims by Mexican citizens have increased from 12 in fiscal year 2005 to 80 last year, according to CBP records. “We’re seeing complete families fleeing from our sister city Juarez. They are middle-class business people. ... Their loved ones are being kidnapped, and they are asking extremely high amounts of money,” said Elvia Garcia, outreach coordinator for the Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Project in El Paso. Garcia said other nonprofit legal agencies in El Paso have been inundated with calls from hundreds of Juarez residents who have crossed the border on tourist visas and now want to seek asylum.‘

Ricardo Ainslie, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has produced a documentary on Mexico’s kidnapping industry. He said the kidnappings have motivated many of the nation’s leading professionals to leave. “In Mexico, there is a real anxiety about it because it’s a huge brain drain. The money and talent is leaving Mexico in huge numbers to San Diego, San Antonio and Austin,” Ainslie said. Hernandez said he had to leave Mexico when he saw the drug gang battles in the streets and the police and military presence. But while the family was drawn to Houston because of the culture and educational opportunities for his wife and three children, it has been hard to transition. “Your family suffers,” Hernandez said. “But when you turn on the TV and listen to the news from Mexico, that’s when you say to yourself you made the right decision to leave.”

The USA Today recently reported about Mexican drug cartels in Atlanta:
In a city where Coca Cola, United Parcel Service and Home Depot are the titans of industry, there are new powerful forces on the block: Mexican drug cartels. Their presence and ruthless tactics are largely unknown to most here. Yet, of the 195 U.S. cities where Mexican drug-trafficking organizations are operating, federal law enforcement officials say Atlanta has emerged as the new gateway to the troubled Southwest border.

Rival drug cartels, the same violent groups warring in Mexico for control of routes to lucrative U.S. markets, have established Atlanta as the principal distribution center for the entire eastern U.S., according to the Justice Department's National Drug Intelligence Center.

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