Life after deportation in Tijuana

Photo Credit: David Maung, Enlace

Each year, thousands of deportees from the United States return to Mexico, and the number of deportations is increasing.  Last year, an unprecedented 400,000 people were deported, averaging about 1,100 per day.  The majority of those deportations involve Mexican citizens; over 2 million Mexicans were deported between 1996 and 2009.  In response to the large numbers of deported people arriving every day in border cities like Tijuana, religious and community service organizations have set up centers to attend to the needs of people who return to Mexico with no job, no money, and often no family.  One such center, Padre Chava, named after Salvador Romo, the priest who started the operation, serves a breakfast to migrants living in Tijuana.  Most of the center’s 900 clients are deportees from the other side of the border, and many of them left behind a family in the United States.  César Romero, who lived in Los Angeles with his wife and children from 1976 until he was deported in 2010.  His family cannot visit him in Mexico because they too are undocumented.  “I live on the streets,” he said.  “It´s really hard here.  A breakfast like this, which for a lot of us is all we will have all day, tastes like heaven.” 

Lots of deportees manage to find work selling souvenirs on the border.  About 50 percent of the venders working on the San Ysidro border crossing are former undocumented immigrants who now struggle to make a living selling goods to tourists waiting to cross the border.  Unfortunately for them, the long lines at the border do not necessarily translate into riches for street vendors.  A good day of sales will amount to a $20 profit.  According to Cuauhtémoc Meza Pérez, who was deported 6 months ago and now sells souvenirs at San Ysidro, the biggest challenge is the fact that most drivers ignore the vendors and roll up their windows.  “This affects us; they do not listen to what we have to sell anymore,” says Meza. 

Another hardship repatriated Mexicans face is discrimination.  Often times people assume that because they were deported that they are criminals, even though illegal entry is not a felony.  “The police stop us for any little thing,” says Romero.  Of course arriving in Mexico with no job and no money means many deportees look dirty and unkempt, making it difficult for them to move forward.  The Padre Chava center provides migrants with hair cuts and clothes to remedy their appearance. 

Mendoza, Alexandra.  “Deportados encuentran asilo en ‘La Linea.'”  San Diego Red.  19 July 2011.

Millán, Omar.  “Un taquito para el alma.”  Enlace.  18 July 2011.

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