LIFESTYLE

Rising Number of Auto "Legalizations" as Mexicans Return Home

New cars are seen lined up at a dealership in Peabody, Mass. Monday, Jan. 5, 2009. Huge rebates and zero-percent loans couldn't trump economic uncertainty and the specter of bankruptcy as U.S. auto sales plunged 35 percent in December, capping a dismal 2008 that saw sales free-fall by more than 3 million vehicles from 2007. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

New cars are seen lined up at a dealership in Peabody, Mass. Monday, Jan. 5, 2009. Huge rebates and zero-percent loans couldn't trump economic uncertainty and the specter of bankruptcy as U.S. auto sales plunged 35 percent in December, capping a dismal 2008 that saw sales free-fall by more than 3 million vehicles from 2007. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Along the Arizona border, owners of auto legalization shops say they're seeing a bump in business. The source: An increase in Mexican citizens filing to permanently register their U.S.-bought cars in Mexico.

It's a common scenario, according to new Mexican Census data, and one that has provided a much-needed boost to local auto legalization business owners. These say that while a few years ago, the bulk of their customers were people who had crossed the border expressly to buy a car, and now were taking it back to drive or sell, they are now seeing many more returning immigrants.

Because of the economy and immigration, "there are thousands, not hundreds of people going back to Mexico," Ramon Martinez, a Nogales, Ariz., business owner who legalizes U.S.-bought cars to be taken to Mexico permanently, told the Nogales International newspaper.

In order for Mexican citizens to bring a U.S.-bought car into Mexico for use there, the owner must provide Mexican Customs with documentation from a legalization business showing that the car is not stolen and has either not been salvaged, or is up to Mexican road safety standards.

The businesses run vehicle identification numbers along with title and license information through government and private databases to ensure the vehicles are legal to export. The process costs anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the value, age make and model of the car.

"You see them with their big pickup trucks and a trailer on back loaded up with everything they own," Martinez said. "They say they can't get a job or the police are giving them a hard time and their kids can't get into school, so they decide to go back to Mexico."

In a report released earlier this month, the Mexican National Institute of Statistics and Geography put the number of people returning to Mexico from abroad at 351,000, about a third of the total 1.1 million who had left the country in the past five years. A decade ago, about 17 percent of migrants who left returned to Mexico.

Eduardo Sojo, the institute's president, told reporters at a press conference announcing the new statistics in Mexico City this month that the main reason for the increase in migrants returning home was the economy and diminished employment options for Mexicans abroad.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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