North of the Border, Part I

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You can't drive down Panama City Beach without seeing a new high rise condo or multi-unit housing development going up. These major projects are creating hundreds of new jobs, but most of those jobs aren’t going to locals or even Americans.

Just like the condos you see going up along the beach, the thousands of Hispanic immigrants calling Bay County home is a new sight, many of them leaving their friends, family and homes behind, but why are they doing it? The answer, to live the American dream.

It’s 5:30 in the morning and Javier Haslo is getting ready for work. He's here in the United States illegally, and because of that he's willing to do put up with working conditions that most Americans won't.

He's up earlier than most of us, and he works longer hours than most of us too. Like many Hispanic immigrants in Bay County, Javier works in construction. He works hard for less money than American workers make.

But Javier is grateful. He says the $12 an hour he earns as a welder is good money compared to what he would make back home in Mexico.

"Yes. It's good money over there. A lot of expensive money. The working over there is nothing. A week, $70 a week. Over here is nice, you know, real nice," said Javier.

Javier says working conditions are so poor in Mexico he was forced to leave his wife and two children at home.

Like many Hispanic immigrants, Javier sends them money each week.

"For good life, you know. For my family in Mexico," said Javier.

According to the Inter-American Development Bank, 1.8 million Latin Americans live in Florida, and almost half of them send money home, and the money is significant.

Many think Javier is a burden to the American workforce, using our health care system illegally and taking jobs away from Americans, but he says he's providing a valuable service.

Javier plans to go home in the next two years, using the money he made here in the states to live the American dream in Mexico.

Javier says it's no Florida vacation, but he knows working 10 hours a day, six days a week will eventually pay off for him and his family.

Right now nobody knows just how many Latin Americans there are in Bay County. According to the 2000 Census, of the 148,000 people in Bay County there were only 3,600 people of Hispanic or Latin descent, but it's obvious those numbers have grown and will continue to grow as fast as the high rises on the beach.