Sunday, April 30, 2006


In the first of a three part series in the Los Angeles Times we can see a possible answer to the problem of illegal immigration into the United States; make the immigrants international investors:

SANTA MARIA AYOQUEZCO,Mexico —The prickly plants started in Catalina Sanchez's garden and now stretch across her neighbors' fields as far as the eye can see. They pop up on acre after acre as word gets around: This village of dirt floors and outdoor toilets expects to get rich exporting cactus.

The seed money comes from men who couldn't make a living here and left for California, the idea from one of the women they left behind.

As their corn crops failed in thinning soil, a generation of men migrated to pick lettuce in the Salinas and San Joaquin valleys. The cash they wired home bought food, but little hope for a better life.

Then Sanchez got busy in her backyard. She started plowing her husband's wire transfers into a waist-high patch of nopal. The paddle-like cactus leaf has a succulent taste and, she suspected, a market far beyond impoverished Oaxaca state. Soon other peasant women joined her, investing cash from their men in California.

Two thousand miles away, Erasmo Alonzo imagined that the wages of his back-breaking labor were buying a TV, a washing machine and indoor plumbing. On his first visit home, "he did not find any of those things," Sanchez recalled. "Look outside," she told him, proudly pointing to her rows of nopal. "That is our future."

With additional financing from migrants in California and the Mexican government, Sanchez's co-op is building a food-processing plant that will employ dozens of this Zapotec Indian community's 5,750 inhabitants. Starting this summer, the co-op's 134 growers plan to supply 10,000 1-pound jars of organically grown, pickled cactus each week to an expanding specialty-food market in the United States.

The article goes on to detail the nuts and bolts of the investment process, such as:

One end of the lifeline is the field near Salinas where Erasmo Alonzo started work before dawn one morning.

For eight years, he had been stooping over those fields for up to 10 hours a day, reaping a chronic back pain that felt "like an ugly wound." But on that July morning, he moved as nimbly as his youthful co-workers as they extracted row after row of lettuce from the soil with 12-inch knives.

Alonzo had been off the day before, a Sunday, and devoted part of the day to the ritual that defined his purpose in America: wiring money home to Mexico.

"It is a struggle to get a decent amount together, but I send $500 every two or three months," he said. On this Sunday, he had wired home $200 and paid 10 percent in commission to a licensed agent of AFEX, a worldwide transfer company.

Fed by millions of such transactions, Mexico's annual remittance inflow has doubled since 2002 and reached $20 billion last year, second only to petroleum as a generator of wealth for the country.

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