The second of a five-part series.
Sculptures hang from the border fence in Nogales, Mexico. Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants are deported to Mexico each year, many to border towns.
Sculptures hang from the border fence in Nogales, Mexico. Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants are deported to Mexico each year, many to border towns. Jason Beaubien/NPR
The border emphasizes how much the U.S. and Mexico rely on each other, and, like siblings, it also illustrates the tension between them. As the U.S. builds new fences and heightens patrols, a drug war on the Mexican side has killed thousands of people this year alone. Meanwhile, trade across the border continues to grow.
This border crossing connects Reynosa, Mexico, with McAllen, Texas. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency saw a 20 percent increase in deportations of illegal immigrants last year.
This border crossing connects Reynosa, Mexico, with McAllen, Texas. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency saw a 20 percent increase in deportations of illegal immigrants last year. Jason Beaubien/NPR
This shelter, Casa del Migrante in Reynosa, Mexico, used to offer meals and beds to men heading north to the U.S. Now it is overflowing with people heading south.
This shelter, Casa del Migrante in Reynosa, Mexico, used to offer meals and beds to men heading north to the U.S. Now it is overflowing with people heading south. Jason Beaubien/NPR
Grupo Beta, a Mexican government agency, provides limited services to deportees.
Grupo Beta, a Mexican government agency, provides limited services to deportees. Jason Beaubien/NPR
The border fence at Nogales, Mexico, where many immigrants are deported. Many areas of the fence are decorated with art.
The border fence at Nogales, Mexico, where many immigrants are deported. Many areas of the fence are decorated with art. Jason Beaubien/NPR
The U.S. government deports hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to Mexico each year, and the majority of them are dropped just across the border.
In the past, many of these migrants would immediately try to cross back into U.S. But now, with the economic downturn and beefed-up security measures along the border, an increasing number are saying it's not worth the trouble.
The streets of Nogales, Sonora, just across Arizona's southern border, are crawling with deportees. Some of them are covered in prison and gang tattoos. Others are down-on-their-luck men who used to do construction work in California or wash dishes in Chicago. Many are sleeping on the streets.
Roberto Reyes, who is originally from Honduras, had been working for five years in a restaurant in Miami, until, he says, he was arrested for drunk driving. The 40-year-old Reyes was deported in September, and he says he immediately tried to cross back through the desert.
"I walked for six days, but I didn't make it across," Reyes says. "Now I've just returned."
He was caught by the Border Patrol and deported again to Nogales.
Reyes has two young daughters and a wife in Miami, but he says getting back to them in the States right now is too difficult.
"There are a lot more border guards, and it costs a lot more to cross than in the past," Reyes says. "And the risk is that you could die in the desert."
For the past few days, Reyes has been sleeping on the streets in Nogales. He says he hopes to get some work here so that he can buy a bus ticket back home to Honduras.
Assisting The Immigrants
The Mexican government offers limited assistance to deportees. The dusty office of governmental agency Grupo Beta in Nogales overflows with migrants, while its representatives patrol the nearby desert and provide water to would-be border crossers. Grupo Beta also offers discounted bus tickets to migrants who want to go back to their villages.
Enrique Enriquez Palafox, the coordinator of the office, says in the past many migrants would spend a few days or maybe a week in Nogales before trying to cross into the U.S. again. Now he says far more are heading south.
In 2007, Enriquez says, the office helped 689 people return home in the whole year. So far in 2008 it has helped more than 6,000.
"They're seeing that it's more difficult," he says. "There isn't as much work in the United States. There are fewer possibilities to cross, and they're saying, 'Hey, I'm going to go back to my city; I'm going to go back to my family.' "
'Just Keep On Trying'
But there are also those who say staying in Mexico is not an option.
"I was raised in the United States," says one man, who sits about 20 yards from the rusty metal fence that's keeping him out of Arizona. He doesn't want to be identified because he is waiting for an opportunity to break the law and jump the wall. "They took me when I was 5 years old to California. I'm 45 years old and I just got deported. I have to go back with my family. I don't have nothing here in Mexico. All my family is in California. I have five children — I have two in Iraq right now, fighting for their country. Which I believe is my country too, because I was raised up there."
The man used to paint houses in San Bernardino, east of Los Angeles, but business wasn't going so well. He got deported, he says, after police came to his house over a domestic dispute.
"So I was losing my house, and I got depressed," he says. "Started arguing with my wife because of the bills and everything. That's when my neighbor called the cops on me."
He denies hitting his wife and says the police never pursued the domestic violence charge. But they did hand him over to the immigration authorities. Originally he was deported to Tijuana, but after he tried to cross there, the Border Patrol bused him 500 miles east to Nogales.
Miles and miles of the new fence stretch out from this rough border town into the desert. Border Patrol agents guard the frontier in a parade of four-wheelers — from massive Ford Excursions down to one-man all-terrain vehicles. They have night vision goggles, high-tech cameras, remote sensors and motion detectors.
"That's what they're doing, and it's very hard right now," the man says. "But you're going to have to keep on trying if you want to be with your loved ones. Just keep on trying. No matter what. No matter what it takes."
'They Think We Are Criminals'
Last year the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, ICE, deported 350,000 illegal immigrants. This was a 20 percent increase from the year before. Most were deported just across the border into Mexico.
One thousand miles east of Nogales, the Mexican city of Reynosa sits opposite McAllen, Texas. At the Casa del Migrante in Reynosa, dozens of deportees say Grace before dinner.
The shelter run is by nuns, and it used to offer a meal and a bed to men heading north. Now it's overflowing with people heading south.
The shelter has space for 40 people, but lately two to three times that many have been sleeping here. Juan Garcia, 23, was released into Reynosa from ICE custody earlier in the day.
"We just go over there to work, and they think we are criminals, everybody is criminals," Garcia says.
Garcia was picked up in April during an ICE raid on a chicken processing plant in Arkansas. Agents fanning out across five states arrested several hundred illegal immigrants working at Pilgrim's Pride facilities. Under a relatively new ICE practice, most of the illegal immigrants swept up in the workplace raids — including Garcia — were charged with identity theft and other crimes.
Garcia served a six-month sentence in an Arkansas state prison. He says his three kids are all U.S. citizens.
"My older one is going to turn 7 in December," Garcia says. "My second one just turned 5 in September, and the other one is 3."
The kids are with his mother-in-law in Arkansas. His wife died a year ago in a car accident, and now, he says, his kids are without parents.
Garcia came to the U.S. with his father when he was 13, he says. When he was caught, he had been packing chickens for three years in a job that paid $6.75 per hour.
"The Americans don't like to work in a job that we would do," Garcia says. "They only want the easy jobs and the well-paid, and we took any job that they have for us."
A six-month prison term, an order to leave the country, a new fence that stretches for miles and miles along the border — Garcia says these things aren't going to stop him. Eventually, he says, he'll be back in Arkansas with his children.