PHOENIX (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic stopped work for nearly a month at the California farm where Luis earns $80 a day picking tomatoes, but that didn’t stop him from sending $800 to family in Mexico.
The money had traveled far by the time he was back at work in June. It kept his family fed, funded his father’s hernia operation and paid for other medical expenses.
Early in the pandemic, experts predicted that migrant workers in the U.S. like 32-year-old Luis — who didn’t want his last name used for fear of losing his job and being deported — would wire home less money as the virus hammered the American economy. But those predictions didn’t materialize for workers from Mexico, who have sent home huge amounts of money, called remittances.
In August, their payments amounted to $3.57 billion, according to the Bank of Mexico, the second-highest level on record for a single month and 5.3% above August 2019. Payments in the first eight months of 2020 ballooned to $26.4 billion, up 9.4% compared with the same period last year.
The enormous sums of money moving south, most through electronic transfers, have puzzled some economists, who say their original forecasts underestimated the strength of “human networks” between Mexican migrants in the U.S. and their families back home. They also say the rise has been driven by a weakened Mexican peso and the $600-a-week U.S. unemployment benefit that expired at the end of July. Despite that, the surge continued in August.
“We are honestly very surprised at their resilience,” Jonathan Fortun, an economist at the Institute of International Finance in Washington, said about the payments.
Money coming from families in the U.S. has long been a lifeline in Mexico. The payments are critical to low-income families for expenses like food and