Deported Migrants Are Left in Limbo
NOGALES, Sonora - Deportees arrive here each day by the hundreds, desperate and destitute, escorted off buses by U.S. immigration agents and marched across the border into Mexico.
Some limp along in bedraggled clothing, their feet blistered and flesh torn by cactuses and thorns, their soiled faces downcast in defeat and shame. These are the recent crossers who got caught by Border Patrol agents after hours or days in the desert.
Others, clean-cut in American clothes, were captured after years living illegally in the shadows. Many entered the United States as children, when U.S. businesses welcomed their laborer parents and the government looked the other way. They built careers and started families, raising kids who are U.S. citizens.
They dodged the law until politics changed and police cracked down. They were arrested and told they must leave voluntarily or be jailed with no hope of ever gaining legal status.
They are the collateral effect of America's stepped-up immigration enforcement, dividing families and leaving expelled migrants on a fence between Mexico and the United States - between past and future.
Nogales is not home, not even familiar to most. In the heat of summer, its streets overflow with aimless deportees. They sit in clusters, sharing cigarettes, black humor and despondence. They wait for money from family, for homeless shelters and soup kitchens to open, for bus rides south or another crossing north.
Ask which choice they'll make, they often choke up. "I don't know," they say, staring vacantly down the steamy streets. "What can I do?"
Law leads to layoff@
Juan Jose Alonzo Oropeza, 33, made the trip north from Aguascalientes three years ago. He found construction work in Phoenix. His wife followed with an infant and a 5-year-old. She gave birth to a boy one year later.
Oropeza said he had no Social Security number, so his boss laid him off in fear of Arizona's workplace-enforcement law. He bought a phony number on the black market for $400 and found work as a dishwasher.
Police came and arrested him for identity theft. He was turned over to immigration agents, held in a detention center and given a choice: Fight the charges from behind bars or accept voluntary deportation.
"I had no money for a lawyer, and I knew I was going to lose," Oropeza said. "My family, what are they going to do if I'm in jail?"
He plans to go to Aguascalientes and apply for a green card. But he will wait in Nogales until his family joins him - until his wife has secured papers ensuring that their baby will be forever recognized as a U.S. citizen.
Aid from government, Samaritans@
Nogales' depression is palpable.
Maquila factories have laid off thousands of workers. American tourists, the lifeblood of a border town, no longer shop at souvenir stores or dine at the restaurants. They stopped coming because of the economy, the surge in drug violence and the new passport requirements.
Deported immigrants are a grim replacement. Impoverished already, about one-third of the illegal crossers get robbed by bandits before they are caught by the Border Patrol. Most end up in Nogales with nothing but the clothes on their backs and uncertainty in their eyes.
Greeted by officials from Mexico's federal migrant-assistance agency known as Grupos Beta, each is allowed a three-minute phone call to inform relatives where they are and to ask for help.
No choice but to try crossing@
Fernando Coria, 24, of Michoacan, says he migrated to the United States with his family when he was 6. He grew up as an American, becoming a painter. The former Phoenix resident now has a girlfriend and two children, all U.S. citizens, in Salt Lake City.
Coria says he was stopped for a traffic violation in March and put onto the bus to Nogales, where he has been stuck ever since. There are no relatives in Michoacan, a place he has not visited since childhood.
"It's so hard. Everyone in my family is in Utah," he adds. "My (girlfriend) says she won't come here. She's never been to Mexico but doesn't like it."
Coria tried to re-enter the United States but got caught. He bears no resentment, only a resigned sadness.
"I understand the law, and I respect it. But I have no choice," he says. "I'll try one more time because America is my first country and Mexico is my second. I love the United States."