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Those Are Dollars, Not Pesos -- Keep Them Here

Hilda Marella Delgado is communications director of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

Mexican immigrants should keep some of the money they send back to Mexico and spend it here, where they and their families live.

Electronically transferred remittances to Mexico last year amounted to $10 billion, according to the Bank of Mexico, but most estimates put the figure far higher. According to the bank's reports, the remittances exceeded foreign investment and tourist revenues, and equaled four-fifths of the value of the country's oil exports.

President Vicente Fox has said the remittances enabled Mexico's municipal, state and federal governments to fund 1,435 public works projects in 300 cities and towns last year. The money paved dirt roads, installed street and traffic lights, bought computers for schools, rebuilt churches and laid sewer and water lines in rural towns in Zacatecas, Michoacan, Guadalajara and Oaxaca.

Much of the money is raised by about 500 Mexican federations, or mutual aid societies, in the U.S. Their members include legal residents and U.S. citizens. Many have worked their way up the economic ladder and now own businesses. They raise funds to send to their hometowns in Mexico as a hobby. The great majority of the members know they will never return to live in Mexico. They have lived in the United States for 10, 15, 20 years and have kids who do not speak Spanish.

But think what their remittances to Mexico would finance here: the operating budget of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the budget of the city of Los Angeles twice over, after-school programs, senior living programs and training programs to help recent Mexican immigrants get on their feet. The money could economically revitalize the communities where they live.

I'm not suggesting that no money be sent to families in Mexico. That would be heartless and selfish. But home is also Pacoima, Highland Park, Pico-Union, La Puente, Pomona, Chino and East Los Angeles.

The leaders of the Mexican federations can no longer ignore this issue. Their agenda should not just be cultural but include social, economic and political goals in the U.S. Thousands of Mexican immigrants who live an underground existence could benefit at work and home if remittance money stayed here.

A lot of doors could be opened with $10 billion.

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