JIM LEHRER: Now, the third of our reports marking our 30th anniversary, we're revisiting some of the stories we've covered over the years to see what's changed. Tonight, the subject is immigration. NewsHour correspondent Jeffrey Kaye, of KCET-Los Angeles, looks at what's become of a Mexican-American family he first met in 1993.
JEFFREY KAYE: Like countless others villages across Mexico, San Diego, Des Alejandria, is a place whose men go north to the U.S. to find jobs and opportunity.
That tradition more than a century old is so ingrained in the culture that there's even an annual holiday, El Dia De Los Alsentas, the Day of the Absent Ones, that pays tribute to its immigrants.
Twelve years ago during the fiesta, to put a human face on the immigration story, we accompanied Francisco Correa on one of his periodic trips from his Los Angeles home back to this village where he was raised. Like a dozen of his brothers and sisters, Correa left here in the '60s and went illegally to the U.S. to find work.
In 1993, Correa, by then a legal resident, his wife Anna Maria and son Paco, the oldest of their four U.S.-born children, were running El Paco's Tacos, the family's restaurant in Huntington Park, a suburb of Los Angeles.
PACO CORREA: That's supposed to be me up there when I was a kid.
JEFFREY KAYE: When you were a kid?
PACO CORREA: Yeah, that's me.
JEFFREY KAYE: We wanted to know what had become of the Correa family. Soon after this interview Paco got a job in the post office. In 1997 the family sold the restaurant.
Five years ago Paco Correa started his own family. He married Celina Marquez, herself an immigrant from Mexico. Their wedding was attended by friends and family members, now spread throughout California and scattered and the country.
PACO CORREA: That's my uncle Julie's older son.
JEFFREY KAYE: Where is he?
PACO CORREA: In Chicago.
JEFFREY KAYE: The Correa family is just one example of the deep roots that migrant workers have planted in the U.S. Francisco's odyssey is part of the family lore.
PACO CORREA: He says the first time he came, you said you came with five people in a Lincoln?
JEFFREY KAYE: In the trunk of a car?
WOMAN: The first time.
PACO CORREA: The first time he came, five people in the trunk in a Lincoln.
JEFFREY KAYE: Today Paco, now 33 and Celina, have a daughter, Natalie. Paco is a dock worker. Celina also works at the port part-time. She's applying for U.S. citizenship, but the family considers itself bi-national.
CELINA CORREA: I love this country very, very much because they give me a lot of opportunities. They give me job. They give family. They give everything -- everything, all the opportunities that are awaiting is just in here. But at the same time part of my heart is Mexico.
WAYNE CORNELIUS: It's also no surprise that the family that you profiled is essentially settled in the United States. The incentives for continuing to live in this country still greatly outweigh the desirability of returning to Mexico, even to retire.
JEFFREY KAYE: Immigration expert Wayne Cornelius directs the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego. He says there are more migrants living permanently in the U.S. than ever before, an unintended consequence of U.S. policy.
WAYNE CORNELIUS: Because we have tightened border enforcement, there is much less circular migration. People are staying longer in the United States, and the longer they stay here, the more likely it is that they will settle permanently.
Those without papers have to face the very real certainty that if they return for even a short visit, they will have to risk their lives and spend thousands of dollars to regain entry into the United States. And that is enough of a deterrent to keep them bottled up in the United States.
JEFFREY KAYE: Another reason that migrants tend to stay is a vast network of support, both institutional and informal. For instance, most migrants come for work and can find jobs at any number of city-sanctioned day labor sites around the country.
EDDIE (Translated): We crossed the desert for many days and then had to cross a river, all the while keeping an eye out for the Border Patrol. I thank God I got here and can now look for work to support my family.
JEFFREY KAYE: Migrants find that low-paying jobs are plentiful and employers know there's virtually no risk from immigration authorities in hiring illegal immigrants.
WAYNE CORNELIUS: Since the early 1990s, worksite enforcement has virtually collapsed. The number of fines imposed on employers dropped by 82 percent since 1991. In 2003, the most recent year for which we have statistics, only 124 employers throughout the United States were fined for violating immigration laws. That's not much of a deterrent to employers.
JEFFREY KAYE: Besides jobs, illegal migrants can easily obtain public education and health care. Migrants also help each other. Anna Maria now recovering from a broken leg came here as a teen. She says her family often assisted people from their hometown who showed up on their doorstep.
ANNA MARIA: When they come over here, we help you. We help the people.
JEFFREY KAYE: And you've done that?
ANNA MARIA: Yes. We help you. We have to help you. We have to help the people. Sometimes the mothers have 22 people in the house and one toilet. We have to make a line.
JEFFREY KAYE: They're not the only ones putting out the welcome mat. U.S. Banks and other financial institutions eager to hone in on a new market are tailoring services to attract migrants.
WAYNE CORNELIUS: They are actively courting undocumented migrants who are immigrants regardless of legal status, as depositors as customers for home mortgages and to transfer their money back to relatives in Mexico.
JEFFREY KAYE: Celina Correa like many migrants takes advantage of financial services. Living the lives of middle class Americans she and Paco regularly send money back to her family in Mexico.
CELINA CORREA: I just sent $500. Every month it depends my parents how they need like my parent has a heart surgery so very often I just call and I just want to keep an eye so the money he needs for the medicine.
PACO CORREA: I understand her fully because I lived it. I went through all the same feelings that she felt with my family how they helped my grandparents, uncles, aunts, immediate family that I lived with. I see them. And they need help. So I understand why they need it.
JEFFREY KAYE: The support networks are not just within families. Hometown associations throughout the U.S. stage social and fundraising activities to help migrants here and to collect money to send to Mexico.
Mexicans living in the U.S. pump more money into Mexico than foreign businesses. Last year their remittances totaled $16.5 billion, according to Mexico's Central Bank.
As the son and husband of migrants, Paco Correa has strong feelings about immigration, feelings that are unchanged in 12 years.
PACO CORREA: When you catch them, what are you going to do? Put them back? They'll get back. They'll try it again and again and again.
JEFFREY KAYE: Can the border be closed?
PACO CORREA: No. No way. You can't close that border. Not here.
Especially in LA, when you have every other person that you look over your shoulder that has a connection in Mexico. You know, how do I say no to my family? How do I say no to some cousins that are illegal here? How do I say no to my neighbors? You can't.
JEFFREY KAYE: And as long as there are jobs, says Paco Correa, illegal immigrants will come no matter the costs or the legality just as his father did 36 years ago hidden in the trunk of a car.