MEXICO CITY -- Years of record-breaking deportations in the United States are helping to fuel a developing industry in Mexico: call centers to serve American customers.
Major U.S. companies are moving pieces of their multi-billion-dollar customer service industry south of the border to take advantage of a burgeoning workforce of returning migrants. Many are recent deportees who are better able to relate to their U.S. customers and who speak English with American accents.
The call centers contract with major U.S. companies such as Time Warner, Dish Satellite and Best Buy. They pay lower Mexican wages, as little as $4 an hour, while their customers may not realize theyre speaking with someone in a foreign country.
Some say the call centers exploit returning migrants while theyre still jarred from the trauma of being uprooted from the United States and dropped in a country they may barely remember, if at all.
But they acknowledge that the centers play a valuable role in helping these young people acclimate to what probably feels like a foreign land. The centers offer needed jobs in an economy where few are available and, more importantly, an immediate support network.
It provides a community of people who are like them, who get them, who have the same sense of humor, who have shared similar experiences, who speak English, who went to the high school prom _ or didnt go but know what it is, said Jill Anderson, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for North American Studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, in Mexico City, whos studied the growth of Mexican call centers. It sort of creates this little piece of home in the middle of a really alienating experience.
The extent to which the industrys growth is tied to U.S. deportations is unclear. But it serves as an example of the unintended outcomes of Americas fractured immigration system.
Under President Barack Obama, U.S. immigration officials have deported more than 1.4 million people, at an annual rate that, if it continuers, will exceed any other American president. Mexico-based call centers, serving the United States and other foreign markets, grew 116 percent from 8,632 to 18,701 locations from 2007 to 2010, according to research by Jordy Micheli Thirion, an economics professor at the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Azcapotzalco , Mexico.
Anderson estimates that more than 60 percent of the employees at some of the major Mexico City call centers are deportees, based on conversations with managers and workers.
Dozens of 20-year-olds, many in baggy jeans and designer sneakers, gathered outside a glass four-story call center recently in downtown Mexico City. A young man bumped knuckles with another: What up, dude? A young woman jumped on a young mans back and gushed about how much shed missed him.
Gerry Guzman, 21, chided Itzel Lopez, 21, that their friend was taking too long. He was hungry.
Lets go get some tortillas, he said, pronouncing the word like an American, tor-TEE-yas, instead of "tor-tee-EE-yas, like a Mexican.Guzman was deported a few years from Sacramento, Calif., where he was attending Center High School. He wouldnt say why he was arrested or deported, only that it involved federal charges: Your parents try to warn you, but you know how it is.