Mexicans build lives back home with US earnings

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Federico Botello, who migrated to the US with his brothers in search of work and better opportunities a few years ago, now lives in his hometown, Piedras Negras in Guanajuato state, Mexico, where he is seen March 21, 2017

The Botello brothers grew up in a small stone hut in a remote Mexican village until they went to the United States. Now, by local standards, they are rich.

But they fear that US President Donald Trump will take away their future remittances -- the dollars they earn as undocumented migrant construction workers and send back home.

"I would not have a house nor a pickup truck without the money that I earned there," Jose Botello, 28, told AFP, proudly showing off his comfortable home in the village of Piedras Negras in central Mexico.

After spending two years in the United States, Jose and his 24-year-old brother Federico came back in December to get married in this sunbaked hamlet of just a few unpaved roads.

Four other siblings remain in Naples, Florida, saving every penny they can with the dream of creating a better life back in Mexico.

Remittances sent from the United States are the main source of income for many families in Mexico, particularly rural people. And they are one of the main sources of revenue for the country as a whole: nearly $27 billion in 2016.

So the Mexican government is watching Trump very closely, because he has mentioned the idea of seizing such remittances or taxing them to help pay for the wall he wants to build along the border with Mexico.

- 'Sacrifice' -

Emigrating "is a sacrifice because my wife stays behind. But it really is worth it because this is the only way to get ahead," said Federico Botello, who built his home on a patch of land that also features dozens of head of cattle, also purchased with money he earned in the United States.

"I may stay another year," his 22-year-old brother Gabriel said by telephone from Naples, adding that back home there is scant economic opportunity.

"We have done well. There have not been any immigration raids around here. But if they catch us, we will have no choice but to return home," said Gabriel Botello. He described his routine in Florida and going to work and then back home, day in and day out -- "the life of an unauthorized immigrant."

The Botello brothers do not speak English, and their Spanish is also pretty rudimentary because they dropped out of school when they were young.

So they do not know much about all the comments Trump has made about Mexico -- the campaign-era insults about some Mexican migrants being rapists and drug dealers, the threats to ditch a major trade accord also involving Canada, and the hint that remittances might be a target for paying for the wall.

But they did notice a change in the United States as the Republican billionaire got closer and closer to the Oval Office job he holds now.

"There is more racism. People look at you as if you were a criminal. You work more than the Americans and they pay you less," said Jose Botello. He said it is simply not fair that Trump might try to seize the money "that we work so hard to earn."

- Temporary work -

The Botello brothers entered the United States legally with a work visa which, they say, "someone" got them at the US Embassy in Mexico at a cost of $2,500. It was good for three months, after which they were living in the country illegally.

But it is all worth it, said Gabriel Botello -- the brothers make an average of $20 an hour as construction workers. In a good month, each one is able to send home $2,000 and live on the $1,000 that is left.

"Here, in one month, I earn what I would make in six months back home," said Magdaleno Botello, 30, another of the brothers who has been in Florida since 2014.

Back in Piedras Negras, the Botello family farm their land and raise cattle. They toil from sunup to sundown.

The last harvest of corn and sorghum -- it took seven months to grow -- got them 90,000 pesos (around $4,500). That compares to the $3,000 that each brother can make per month in the US.

But in America, they are just passing through. They plan to stay a few years, save money and return to the village. If the need for money arises, they can see themselves going back to the United States for a while. But none of them plans to stay there for good.

Magdaleno said from Naples that he plans to return to Mexico soon and not return to the United States "so long as that man is in power." He means Trump.

What is more, he added, "people here do not enjoy life as much as we do in Mexico."