The Deported

Flung unwilling and unprepared back into a country they sometimes hardly remember, life on the other side of the Rio Grande for the millions of Mexicans deported under Obama.

“I wouldn’t wish going back on anyone,” says Eduardo Arenas with a bitter smile. He tries his best to talk about it with a sense of humor, but when he remembers the way he was ‘thrown out’ of the United States-quite literally-his voice takes on notes of anger, of sadness, and of nostalgia.

Across the Rio Grande Eduardo left behind everything that he could never attain on this side: a decent job, a family, his own house. That is why at 50 years old he is unwilling to resign himself to living in the country of his birth,

Tens of thousands of undocumented Mexicans like Eduardo have been expelled from the place where they have made whole lives for themselves. Without contacts, without friends without money, suddenly they find themselves in a land that they no longer recognize, a place they had never imagined returning to.

“I cannot live here anymore.”

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“I was a big cop,” Don Eduardo remembers in an interview with La Jornada. ” I had diplomas and awards. But at a certain point, I had these crime bosses come in and they were running big crews of criminals. And since I wasn’t willing to get involved in their rackets, I decided to leave for the United States in 1999.”

After a brief period in California, Eduardo arrived in the state of Tennessee together with his wife and son. There he began working “long and hard” at jobs welding, working in kitchen cabinet factories, and as an arborist, a specialty in which he earned the equivalent of 3,200 pesos [$250] a week.

After 12 years in the United States, Eduardo found himself forced to return to Mexico to see his ailing mother, who died only weeks later. But when he tried to return to the North, he was caught by la migra in Arizona. It was then that he realized that in his old life he had everything except a piece of paper establishing legal residency.

The days that passed awaiting his deportation, in Dec. 2012, stand out in his memory: the cement floor, “cold as an iceberg,” where he had to sleep with no blanket. The jeers in English. The rebukes. The switch to a room that boiled with heat. The lack of food. The order to attempt no return the United States for at least five years.

After being ‘thrown’ onto the Mexican side of the border at the Nogales checkpoint, Eduardo returned to Mexico City, where he had been born 50 years before. But instead of the city he remembered, where he had once had “a nice career” as a cop, he found a place where the air made him sick, that was “overrun with vehicles, with people who never stop running around.”

Far from his three children and his home, he now strives to hold onto a job as a security guard ‘at a condominium for rich people” where he makes barely 2,000 pesos [$150] a week.

“My greatest desire is to go back, because that is where my life is,” he says. “There is nothing for me in Mexico. They discriminate against people for their age, they exploit them. I cannot live here.”

“Unjust and inhumane deportations”

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Although there has always been a cycle of emigration and return with the United States, the process has speeded up with Barack Obama’s policy of massive deportations. Since his arrival in the White House, Obama has expelled more than a million and a half undocumented immigrants, reaching a pace of 400,000 per year (compared to some 150,000 per year in the era of George W. Bush), according to Marco Antonio Castillo, head of the People’s Assembly of Migrant Families (APOFAM).

“Deportations have reached their highest level,” he says. “And also their most unjust and inhumane level. These are innocent people, mothers and fathers who leave their children alone, people who are already going to university there, and suddenly they are just thrown out in the middle of the night, in Nuevo Laredo, Ciudad Juarez or Tijuana.”

Following a logic that puts security ahead of human rights, thousands of people who have lived in the united states for years are being fast-track deported to Mexico, where many of them do not know a single person, have a single friend or relative to lean on, and where their academic and work experience goes unrecognized.

“It is impossible to revalidate university or high school studies here. Schools will not accept [deported]children, because they have no documentation. And many adults cannot find a job even at a Vip’s [Mexico’s Dennys], after having been chefs in the best restaurants of New York,” he says.

With no official program to help them begin life anew in their country of birth, many returned migrants end up being recruited for their language skills by organized crime to work along the northern border. Others are stigmatized for their way of dressing, speaking and behaving.

“Depression over their loss of possessions, family, and their previous life drives many young people who might otherswise have become future leaders into alcohol and drug abuse,” he warns. “The state is years behind in coming up with any kind of policy for dealing with deportees, and we are all going to pay the price for that.”

Starting Over With Nothing

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Though she lived in Los Angeles for 20 years, graduated from a university there, and even worked in the local legislature, Nancy Landa was deported by the United States government. It analyzed her situation in a mere eight hours, decided her fate and loaded her onto a bus headed to Tijuana, warning her that she could not attempt to come back for at least a decade.

Born in Mexico City, Nancy was taken by her parents ot California in 1990, at the age of 9. There she grew up, went to school, obtained a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, and even got a public sector job thanks to a temporary work permit which to her misfortune she was unable to renew.

And that was why in Sept. 2009, she was arrested by immigration agents and subjected to an express deportation. Soon after, her parents and younger brother would be victims of the same process. Back in a country she did not know, Nancy had to start over with nothing.

“I have very mixed feelings, because there were a lot of issues in reintegrating ourselves. It was easier to get accepted to do my Masters degree in London than to try to get my US degree revalidated in Mexico. I cannot go back to Los Angeles, and here I feel rejected and let down by my own country.”

Benjamin Coapio feels the same sense of disillusionment in his own way. He lived and worked in the United States from 1987 to 2001, allowing him to raise six children in Tlaxcala and save for the future. But when he left to visit his sick mother, he was never able to return to the United States as he had planned.

“I wish I had never come back. Up there, I had ended up as boss of a team of 80 people in New Haven, Connecticut. I miss everything about the US, starting with the greenbacks; I was making $1,500 a week,” says Coapio, who left a daughter on the other side of the border, and a grandson whom he doesn’t know if he will see again.

More than 6 Million Returnees at the Door

“We need to recognize that Mexico is suffering through a revolutionary transformation,” says APOFAM’s Marco Castillo. “But not an instantaneous one; it’s happening drop by drop. This country needs to accept that migration is a big part of who we are and come up with a creative public policy to deal with reincorporating the returnees.”

Due to immigration reform in the northern neighbor, he suggests, the next three years could see as many as 6 and a half million immigrants returning to Mexico, a population transfer that has seen no planning whatsoever.

“At present there are 29 million Mexican-American children living on the other side of the border, all of them with dual citizenship. Our territory is destined to ‘Mexican-Americanize.’ The question is how prepared we are for this.”

Broken Families

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One of the major effects of the mass deportation of undocumented migrants is the breakup of families. In the worst of cases, this can be a permanent rupture, when parents find it impossible to obtain custody of their children, says Blanca Navarrete, head of the Mexico Northern Border Initiative.

Coauthor of a study entitled Violations of the Human Rights of Mexican Migrants in the United States, she explains that the government of that country finds children whose parents are not in US territory, it assumes that they have been abandoned, and sends them to foster care.

Due to a lack of coordination between US immigration officials and Child Protective Services, the social service agency is frequently not notified when parents are deported, and ends up placing the children for adoption.

If the minor has been in foster care for a year, CPS issues a permanency plan, which may suggest reunification with parents, adoption, or custody with relatives, she says.

In the case that the parents fail to carry out the reunification plan, or the child remains out of their custody for 15 months in any 22 month period, federal law holds that CPS should petition a court to end parental rights.

Fernando Camacho Servin