President Trump’s had both strong rhetoric and policies on immigration during his presidency. One way that immigrants’ lives are impacted is through remittances — money sent from the U.S. to other countries.
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When you walk along San Francisco’s Mission Street you see these stores painted with bright colors with signs saying money sending: “envios de dinero.”
On the weekend, you can see the long lines of the people waiting. Remittances, called “Remesas” in Spanish, are sent all over the world. But on this specific street, the money is mostly sent to Latin America.
Roberto Avellanos, a co-owner of Money Express Center in the Excelsior district, tells me that from the moment he opens at 9 a.m., there’s a line of people waiting to send money to their families.
“De día a día abrimos desde las 9 de la mañana y desde que venimos de las 9 de la mañana ya hay una línea de personas esperando para empezar a procesar dinero,” says Roberto.
He also says his most regular clients are Mexicans, Salvadorians, and Hondurans.
In fact, after India and China Mexico receives more remittance money for the United States than any other country, 36 billion dollars in 2018.
But remittances are not only about numbers. Tracking them can also tell us something about the United State’s political environment.
Back in 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump released a memorandum stating his plans to make Mexico pay for a wall by strictly regulating the money sent to Mexico.
The total amount of money sent to Mexico through remittances rose after Trump made those threats. It went from nearly $70 billion dollars in 2016 to $88 billion in 2018.
I asked Robert Avellanos if he’s seen any changes in the flow of customers since Trump threatened more ICE raids this summer.
“Lo que llegamos a percibir o escuchar alguna gente es que yo estaba reteniendo su dinero,” Robert explains to me how the flow of people sometimes depends on the news.
Some days, he says, the store was empty after news of impending ICE raids. But a little later, people lined up to send all their money out of the United States.
“Y todo mundo habla la política de Trump a todo mundo viene acá con miedo.” He says everyone talks about Trump’s politics, that the community is afraid.
Although not everyone uses brick and mortar stores to send money internationally.
“Pues yo tengo una manera por medio de un Website que se llama Xoom,” Ignacio Fuentes who is originally from Guanajuato Mexico, tells me he uses a service called XOOM — owned by PayPal — which is connected to his bank account, easy.
Apps like Xoom can be convenient and could be seen as safer than doing money exchange in person, but these stores are still the most popular way of sending money to countries like El Salvador.
And, there are some restrictions for sending money online, for example some of them are only in English, and others do not work with cash. So if people in the receiving country don’t have bank accounts, these apps might not work. Also, some people simply do not trust online-only services and prefer to go to stores like Robert’s.
“Yo veo las grandes filas todos los días,” Regina Garay, originally from El Salvador and now a street vendor at 24th Street and Mission, said that in the last couple of years she has been seeing longer lines outside money transfer stores every day.
“Entonces qué es lo que está pasando es que la gente está sacando su dinero por miedo a que la deporten,” she believes that people are sending their money out of fear of getting deported.
Regina says that even with all of the fear, she believes immigrant communities will be fine.
“Y Trump ahí va estar, y los inmigrantes aquí van a estar, y esta dificil que los saquen,” she said that Trump may be in the white house, but immigrants will still be here, and it will be hard to make them leave.