No home anywhere: Life after deportation

Deportation is a nightmare for families and communities who get torn apart. Since the mid-1990s, the number of immigrants deported has continued to increase. What are the effects of punishing undocumented immigrants who come to the US? And what happens to people after they are deported?

Puck Lo went to Tijuana, Mexico, to find out.


Ambient sound of plastering, traffic noise, radio playing

Afternoon light and street noise drifts through the open window into the living room of Casa Refugio Elvira in Tijuana, Mexico. The radio plays while Oscar- a middle-aged man with curly black hair- spreads plaster with a trowel in between light blue tiles in the kitchen.

Oscar is originally from Honduras. For 28 days he rode on board a freight train from southern Mexico just to get here. He has already been deported from the US twice and is afraid of being arrested again. Now, he hopes to cross back over into the US.

Oscar: Oh, the train… On the train, one risks everything. One risks becoming crazy, because it’s so full of people. It carries around two thousand people – not only from Honduras but all of Central America and South America – because it’s the only way that one can travel, and one risks one’s life as well, losing hands and legs… One can even find death on the train.

For five years, Oscar lived near San Francisco, working jobs in construction. But he was deported back to Honduras after a Driving Under the Influence conviction. Back in his home country, Oscar found he couldn’t afford to stay.

Oscar: Honduras has changed quite a bit since I was growing up. It was really hard for me growing up. Now it has changed because there are free trade agreements that have been made with Central America, especially with the United States- that have made it so that there is more money, yet we don’t know how to get a hold of that money. So it’s really hard, and there are no jobs. That’s why a lot of people decide to migrate. I’m 53 years old, I had a hard time growing up, and now this is what it has come to – I have to leave Honduras… And I’m not the only one. There’s thousands upon thousands of Hondurans that have also left.

I wish that the immigration laws would work for us, not against us. I wish we could go to the US safely and get a job, because we’re not criminals. We’re not going to go over there to do bad things… We’re going over there to work. That’s the only reason we’re going to the US.

Ambient sound from border – footsteps, voices, music, car horns

Now, Oscar hopes to cross back into the US. His plan: to walk through the city until he’s on the US side. That’s how he crossed the before. He says he only wants to work for a few years and then return to his wife and kids in Honduras and buy a house.

Many lawyers say that immigration law took a repressive turn in 1996. That year, new laws passed which mandated detention or automatic deportation for minor and non-violent offenses. Since then, the number of people deported has risen steadily every year. And that’s only worsened since 9-11, advocates say.

Quiet neighborhood street ambient

A few houses down from where Oscar stays is a building complex painted sky blue. This is Casa de la Madre Asunta, a shelter for migrant women, run by an order of nuns.

Marta Chavez is staying here. She’s in her thirties. California had been her home for the past 18 years. Four of her kids still live there. She served time in prison for a drug-related offense. On the day before her scheduled release from prison, she received a call from Immigration Customs Enforcement, or ICE. She says they demanded to see documents proving her status as a legal permanent resident.

Marta: But I didn’t have the paperwork with me right there and then to prove that I had legal status seven years before my felony. And she says, Well, we don’t have the papers, you don’t have the papers, so we’re ordering you deported, right now.Just like that. And here I am now; I don’t have no place to stay! My whole family is in the United States!

Same day, about five o’clock, they took us out – to the border. I only had $19. It was just so terrifying to know that I was leaving my children, my family, and everything… It was just so painful. And just to know that everybody on the bus with me are going through the same emotions and the same feelings, because it’s like – over- our lives are done, you know?

And they put us in cages like we’re some kind of animals. To today I still don’t think it’s real. I think it’s a nightmare.

Marta says she’s too terrified of spending life in prison to try crossing back. But many people do try, regardless of the danger, because they have nowhere left to go. That’s according to Micaela Saucedo. She’s the Director of Casa Refugio Elvira, in downtown Tijuana.
Micaela shows us around the house, a comfortable, clean, second-floor apartment off a busy street.

Ambient of Michaela giving a tour

Okay. We have two, four, five spaces…we have a couch here. When we are full we set it up, sleeping bags on the floor, we have also a plastic mattress…that you put air in…

Ambient sound of thrift store, hangers, customers

Downstairs is a secondhand clothing shop, which Micaela oversees. It helps to fund the shelter upstairs. Micaela spends her days helping one person at a time get back on their feet. But she says the problem of migration is much larger than what she sees everyday at the border.

Micaela: The globalization I think is killing the whole world. That’s why people have to migrate. Because before the free trade, the farm workers in Mexico was making pretty good… But after that, no more. Like here in Tijuana, not too far – the little markets are going down. Because of the Wal-Mart, Costco, Office Depot. You know, those American corporations are coming all over Mexico. So they finished with the little business, you know? That’s why there’s a lot of poverty around the world.

You travel back to Mexico, you see many little towns, and most of the people are here in the United States, working. So that’s why we are asking the government: “You’re talking very well about the migrants who send the money to their hometowns…but how come when they deport them you don’t help them?

Border ambient sound of clanging door

That’s why on some days, Micaela and a few other activists will stand at the border for hours at a time, handing out flyers for migrant shelters and services to people passing through the clanging door. They also monitor the local police.

Border patrol walkie-talkie ambient sound

This evening, a bus operated by Wackenhut, and contracted by the US Border Patrol, drops off 43 people at the border. Micaela and the group that runs Casa Elvira, want the Mexican government to reverse free trade policies. They also want comprehensive immigration reform in the US.

Micaela: All they want to give us is fences, more Border Patrols, but they are not talking about humane immigration reform. That’s why we keep fighting. Because our belief isn’t to have these houses… not to have these houses everywhere. Our belief is to press the United States to give us legalization for everybody, and stop the raids, and stop the separation of families.

Border ambient with street music