Fear is returning to the heart of the predominantly Mexican business district in Gainesville.
Maria Carrillo said she sees concern on the faces of customers who come to the supermarket and restaurant she opened in 1995 with her husband Jose.
Carrillo’s 2 at 503 Atlanta Highway also runs a money transfer service where many of her customers come to pay their utility bills, buy money orders and wire money back to their loved ones in Mexico.
In 2016, a record $27 billion was sent home to Mexico by migrants living abroad, according to a recent Central Bank report. The Bank said almost all the money was sent to Mexico by electronic transfers, and the remittances surpass the $15.6 billion Mexico earns from oil exports and $17.5 billion in tourism income.
Lately though, since President Donald Trump signed executive orders directing the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and increased border patrol and deportations, Carrillo said she has noticed a change in her customers’ spending habits.
Georgia’s U.S. senators have supported securing the country’s borders before addressing other immigration issues.
“People are buying less,” the business owner said. “It’s something I’ve seen the last two weeks.”
At the same time, Carrillo said she’s also noticed a slowdown in money transfers, and the transfers being made are for lesser amounts than what she’s accustomed to seeing.
Carrillo said she thinks people are being careful with their money because of what happened about eight years ago during another crackdown on undocumented workers in Gainesville.
“Many people were deported and others left the area in a hurry leaving everything they had behind,” she said. “People are afraid.”
Others are seeing a shift in people’s spending habits, too. Vanesa Zabala, a cashier at Mexico Transfers, a money wiring service at Westside Plaza, 425 Atlanta Highway, said foot traffic at the business has slowed down to a trickle.
“It started slowing down after Trump was elected,” Zabala said. “Now we’re seeing 10 to 15 customers a day when we used to see triple that amount.”
Zabala said Mexico Transfers has four other locations in surrounding counties. She said there have been discussions within the company about what’s causing the slowdown.
“We’re thinking they are holding on to their money in case they have to leave,” she said.
In the meantime, Zabala who’s been working with the company eight months, worries that she might be out of a job if the slump continues.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.
Marina Reyes has been employed eight years at La Duranquense, a supermarket at 1305 Industrial Blvd. just off Atlanta Highway. The store also offers money transfer services.
Reyes said she remembers the many law enforcement checkpoints that were set up in the area the last time there was a crackdown on undocumented workers.
“It was hard on businesses,” Reyes said.
“People go to work and leave their children at home,” Reyes said. “They don’t know if they will return home. It’s sad.”