The towering black gate opens silently to an alley with walls of corrugated metal. Scrawled in large white letters on one wall is: “The End.”
For those deported from the United States, the words are an unnecessary reminder. Nearly every hour of the day, guards unlock this gate that leads back into Mexico, clicking open the padlocks hung on each side, in each nation.
Every time the gate slams shut, it wipes out a dream, divides a family, ends a life lived in the shadows of the law.
On average, 700 Mexicans expelled from the United States walk through this gate daily, according to Mexican government figures. They include farmers, construction workers, prisoners, nannies, children, entire families.
A few steps from the gate, American tourists pose for photos in front of a stone relief. They are oblivious to the men, women and children sadly shuffling into a homeland many risked their lives to leave.
Deportations jump 60 percent
U.S. deportations have jumped by more than 60 percent over the past five years. Mexicans accounted for nearly two-thirds of those deportees, helping to roll back one of the biggest migrations of recent history. All along the border, shelters once full of people trying to cross into the United States are now home to thousands of deportees who sleep on mattresses strewn inches apart on cement floors.
In a week spent at the Tijuana gate, The Associated Press watched busload after busload of deportees arrive, some in a daze, still stunned over their sudden expulsion. Many stumbled over the Mexican official’s question, “Where are you from?” after spending decades in the United States.
The faces of those who stream through reflect how tough and far-reaching the U.S. crackdown on illegal immigration has become.
Among them are young people. There were more than 18,000 repatriations of children under 18 to Mexico this year, and in more than 10,000 cases they were alone, according to the Mexican government.
There are also criminals. The U.S. does not break down figures by country, but it has deported about 55,000 prisoners so far this year. One man walked through the gate in slippers with 80 cents in his pocket, after being picked up by police during a violent fight with his wife in their backyard.
And there are women, with more than 40,000 repatriations since January—about 13 percent of all cases, according to the Mexican government. Sometimes the women are dropped off alone, at night. The U.S. Border Patrol in Washington says the safe repatriation of women is a major concern, but acknowledges there is no overall policy along the 2,000-mile border.
Mexico must now deal with a population that it has long ignored. And those returning must deal with Mexico, a land that for many now seems foreign. The challenge starts the day they walk through the gate the U.S. Border Patrol calls Whiskey II, military code for west of the port of entry.