After Decades in America, the Newly Deported Return to a Mexico They Barely Recognize

Antonio Olivio, Washington Post, March 3, 2017

The deportees stepped off their flight from El Paso looking bewildered — 135 men who had left families and jobs behind after being swept up in the Trump administration’s mounting effort to send millions of undocumented immigrants back to their economically fraught homeland.

As they filed into Mexico City International Airport recently, government employees handed them free ham-and-cheese sandwiches, Mexican ID cards and information directing them to social services in the capital.

“Welcome back!” a cheerful government worker called out, taking down names and phone numbers.

Then the men, who had spent as many as 20 years in the United States before being caught and held in detention for several weeks, walked out into a Mexico many of them barely remember, where job opportunities are scarce and worries about the worst inflation in a decade await them.

In the wake of new enforcement policies announced by the Trump administration recently that dramatically expand the pool of undocumented immigrants targeted for deportation, Mexico is bracing for an influx of men and women like them. Their arrival — along with a surge of undocumented immigrants leaving the United States voluntarily — promises to transform Mexican society in the same way their departure did.

Since President Trump took office in January, the number of U.S. government flights landing in Mexico City loaded with deportees has jumped from two a week under President Barack Obama to three, Mexican officials said. The arrivals include convicted felons but also many without criminal records.

The numbers of immigrants deported from the United States waned in the final years of the Obama administration, which took steps to focus enforcement on hardened criminals and recent arrivals.

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About 500 deported Mexicans, including some who had been picked up when Obama was in office, are arriving here daily.

“Many of these people come not knowing how to speak Spanish,” said Amalia García, secretary of Mexico City’s labor department, which serves as a point of contact for the deportees. “They come feeling very bitter, very ashamed and very hurt.”

More returnees means lower wages for everybody in blue-collar industries such as construction and automobile manufacturing, where competition for jobs is likely to increase, economists say.

Moreover, the loss of remittances from the United States — Mexico’s second-largest source of revenue at roughly $25 billion last year — could have devastating effects, particularly in rural areas.

At the same time, though, there will be more English-speaking Mexicans entering the workforce who’ve honed their skills in the United States, a development that in the long run could position Mexico to be a stronger player in the global economy, analysts say.

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The Mexican government hopes to tap into that potential — and to diminish the likelihood that deportees will try their luck again across the U.S.-Mexico border, where the Trump administration plans to build a wall.

A federal program launched in 2014, called Somos Mexicanos (We’re Mexican), tries to help returning migrants find jobs, start businesses and deal with the emotional trauma many experience after leaving families in the United States.

Under the program, arriving deportees receive food, a medical checkup and bus fare to wherever they plan to live in Mexico. Local case managers then connect them to social services and job leads and, in some cases, help with moving their families back.

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But the government’s ability to provide such services to the tens of thousands of returning migrants expected in the coming years is uncertain.

The value of the Mexican peso plunged after Trump took office, prompting worries about the worst inflation in the country since the 2008 global recession.

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Meanwhile, prices for tortillas, meat and other necessities have gone up in response to the federal government’s 20 percent hike in gasoline prices last month, hitting poorer Mexicans especially hard.

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At the Mexico City airport, many passengers arrived in the same rumpled clothes they were wearing when U.S. immigration authorities grabbed them. Some wore gray detention center pants after serving time in jail.

Not liking their chances here, several of the men made a beeline toward a nearby bus terminal to find a way back to the border.

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Jill Anderson, director of Otros Dreams en Acción (Other Dreams in Action), an advocacy group for former undocumented immigrants who grew up in the United States, said many returning students face problems being admitted to Mexican public schools.

The system for transferring U.S. school credits into Mexican schools is rife with red tape, requiring translated transcripts and other proof, which can take more than a year, Anderson said.

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“It really interrupts the economic and social norms of Mexico,” she said. “They speak English, and they’re asking for access to higher education and to employment in ways that their parents were not able to.”

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