The lure of money and opportunity
December 30, 2005
Sitting in his downtown Greeley apartment, Francisco Montes feels a lifetime away from his hometown on the Pacific Ocean in El Salvador.Montes often day-dreams about his favorite spot on the beach, where he would spend his free days listening to the waves break on the sand and leaves rustle in the wind as he dozed off in his hammock.
Montes is no prisoner. He knows he could be back at the spot in a less than a week if he decided. But it’s not that simple. If he goes home, he’ll leave behind a construction job that pays four times as much as he could make at home, and a wealth of opportunities not available in El Salvador for his two small children who were born here. Montes faces the same dilemma as millions of foreign-born in the U.S.: make money while living in a culture, language and climate sometimes uncomfortable to them, or return home to their comfort zone and live in poverty.
“I’m not here because I like it,” said Montes, 42. “I’m here because it works for me.”In 1998, Montes paid a coyote (a person who smuggles people across the U.S.-Mexico border) $4,700 to take him from El Salvador to Los Angeles. He’s been in the U.S. since, working in factories, slaughter houses and construction. Montes said if he could make half – or even a third – of what he makes in the U.S., he’d be on the first bus back to El Salvador. But, he says he would make, at best, $250 a month in El Salvador working construction or in other manual labor. Here, he makes about $2,500 per month at his construction job.
He uses that to supports his wife and two children here and also sends $350 a month to his mother and three sons (from a previous marriage) in El Salvador. He recently moved his family out of an apartment and bought a house. His two small children – 3-year-old Gabriela and 6-month old Elian – were born here and thus, are U.S. citizens. He knows that returning to El Salvador would deprive them of educational, recreational and cultural opportunities not available in his home country. As “anchor babies,” Gabriela and Elian can petition for their parents’ U.S. residency when they turn 21. Even though Montes may want to return home, the whole situation serves as a set of shackles that keeps him and his family in the U.S.