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Deported to Mexico, these men feel lost in a country they no longer know

April 11, 2017 at 6:35 PM EDT
The Trump administration has vowed to speed up the deportation process, but what exactly happens when undocumented immigrants who have built lives and have families in the U.S. are forced to return to Mexico? Special correspondent Nick Schifrin follows the lives of men who have been recently deported.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: So, part of what the attorney general called the Trump era includes speeding up the deportation process, but what happens to those who are deported?

Special correspondent Nick Schifrin traveled to Mexico to try to answer that question.

He begins in Mexico City.

NICK SCHIFRIN: In Mexico City’s airport, the recently deported arrive by the planeload. This is the country of their birth, but most have been gone so long, it feels foreign.

FELIZIO GONZALES, (through interpreter): You come back here knowing nothing about your future.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Fifty-two-year-old Felizio Gonzales was arrested last year in Seattle for running a stop sign. He’s been living in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant installing carpets for the last 20 years.

FELIZIO GONZALES (through interpreter): I had a girlfriend I was living with, but now it’s all over. She stayed there, and I came back to Mexico.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Gonzales and every deportee arriving from the U.S. is greeted by city government workers and local aid groups.

RUDY LOPEZ, Immigration Activist: When you’re coming here, you’re coming broken.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Rudy Lopez leads an organization that provides basic immediate assistance. He says he feels recent arrivals’ pain. He was deported for traffic tickets and getting in a fight a year-and-a-half ago. His two American children still live in Las Vegas.

RUDY LOPEZ: I fight because I don’t like families being destroyed, you know? I miss my boy. I miss my daughter.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Is the government helping recent deportees?

RUDY LOPEZ: Really, really, it’s a little bit, the help. Our government is — I’m sorry for the word — it’s (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

Mexico got a lot of money, but not for everybody, only for the government.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Today, Lopez is the deportees’ only source of help. He hands Gonzales a little spending cash and leads him outside the airport. Gonzales carries only what U.S. immigration allowed him to take: a mesh bag, the clothes on his back.

They lead him into Mexico City’s sprawling metro system. Gonzales is almost immediately lost. He gets off the metro. He hopes it’s the right stop. He looks for a bus to take him an hour out of town to his ex-wife’s House, but he hasn’t talked to her in four years.

He decides that she’s a long shot, and there is only one remaining sanctuary.

FELIZIO GONZALES (through interpreter): All I can do is ask God to make it a little easier.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Why can’t you help these people more?

CARLOS SADA SOLANA, Mexican Deputy Foreign Minister: It’s a huge challenge, I would say.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Carlos Sada Solana is Mexico’s deputy foreign minister. He admits the government is overwhelmed by the recent arrivals.

CARLOS SADA SOLANA: We still have to make it better, so that people feel really welcome and protected by the institutions of Mexico, and also offering some alternatives for jobs. And that is what we are trying to improve.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Many people here blame President Trump. But his predecessor, President Barack Obama, was dubbed by his pro-immigrant rights critics the deporter-in-chief. And according to Mexican statistics, the Trump administration deported slightly fewer Mexicans in February compared to last year.

Mexico says what has changed is that the Trump administration is moving undocumented Mexicans through the deportation steps faster, and is deporting more undocumented Mexicans from cities far from the Mexican border.

CARLOS SADA SOLANA: We are very concerned, because it has extended the expedited removal, not only from the border area, to the whole territory of the United States, including Alaska, and that this could provoke also violations of human rights, not giving the due process to the people.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Eleven hundred miles north, on the Arizona-Mexico border, the two towns divided by a fence are both called Nogales. The deportees in Nogales, Mexico, arrive from the U.S. by the busload. The U.S. and Mexico coordinates their arrival. They have just a few days to plan their next steps.

JOSE MESA: This is my first day over here in Mexico. I feel, like, weird, because I don’t know nothing about over here.

NICK SCHIFRIN: For the last 15 years, 29-year-old Jose Mesa lived in Phoenix and worked as a caregiver. He says he was arrested for driving under the influence, and then deported.

Is there a lot of fear in immigrant communities in the United States about getting deported today?

JOSE MESA: Yes. Basically, yes, they got a lot of fear.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Because the administration doesn’t want you?

JOSE MESA: Yes, administration of Trump is getting more worse, yes.

NICK SCHIFRIN: He says, since the inauguration, immigration agents are more aggressive, and his neighbors are more prejudiced.

JOSE MESA: They don’t give you respect. I mean, they treat me like trash.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Nearby, the deported find sanctuary at the San Juan Bosco shelter. This has been housing recent arrivals for more than 30 years. Some will try and cross again. But others are preparing to travel south to their homes in Mexico. They say the border has gotten too difficult to cross.

Jorge Rivera Uribe is only 19. His American dream was to provide money for his two sisters, his wife, his daughter, and his mother, who has diabetes.

JORGE RIVERA URIBE, (through interpreter): I don’t have money to take care of them. So, I wanted to see if I could earn more money to give them all a better life, so they don’t have to suffer.

NICK SCHIFRIN: In the U.S., he was building homes, making in one day what it takes a week to make in Mexico. But the border is now much more dangerous. Last month, he tried to sneak into the U.S. without paying the $500 charged by local drug cartels. They almost beat him to death.

JORGE RIVERA URIBE (through interpreter): They told me, if they find me crossing again, they will blow my head off. They don’t know I’m alive. If they did, they would have come for me. That’s why I want to leave here. I won’t let them kill me.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Uribe and the others are allowed to spend three nights here. It’s comfortable, but they know they need to move on soon. The next morning, they wait to be transported to other locations that offer help.

Thirty-two-year-old Sergio Guererro has four American children in California.

What’s changed for you since Donald Trump was elected president?

SERGIO GUERERRO, (through interpreter): It’s gotten more difficult. If you go nowadays, it’s scarier.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Their reticence reflects a recent trend. U.S. Border Patrol says, in March, compared to last year, the number of people apprehended or turned away at the border dropped by 64 percent.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly takes credit for that decrease, and says the administration’s policies discourage would-be crossers.

JOHN KELLY, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary: What we’re doing on the border, what we intend to do on the border has added to that deterrent effect.

NICK SCHIFRIN: But that has left some of the deported in no man’s land, too scared to try and cross back to their American lives, forsaken by their birth country that feels alien.

Martin Lopez is 48. He was born in Tijuana, but spent 44 years in California. He worked in restaurants and says he paid taxes. He was deported three months ago after he says he took the rap for his American wife’s welfare fraud.

MARTIN LOPEZ: I had to, because I didn’t want my kids taken away from her.

NICK SCHIFRIN: He left Mexico when he was 4, and doesn’t have his birth certificate. He never got any American documentation. He feels like a John Doe. He’s run out of money and hope.

MARTIN LOPEZ: It’s difficult, very difficult. I never suffered this much like I have in a month, two months. I mean, it comes down to the point where you just don’t want to live no more. That’s all it is. It’s very difficult. I have to survive, you know? There’s not much to say. My kids hold me up.

NICK SCHIFRIN: You talk to them?

MARTIN LOPEZ: Oh, yes, I talk to them.

NICK SCHIFRIN: What do they tell you?

MARTIN LOPEZ: Oh, they say just not to lose hope, not to lose hope, and hang in there. But they’re kids. They don’t — there’s not much they can say.

NICK SCHIFRIN: When he first arrived, he could sleep and eat in local shelters. But there’s a time limit on their assistance. So, today, he’s on his own. He tried to cross back into the U.S., but fell and hurt his back.

He too turns to God. He feels trapped between two countries, neither of which offers help.

MARTIN LOPEZ: Well, this is my sleeping area. Here is where I sleep ever since I got deported. And when I’m not working, I mean, this is where I’m at right here, as you can see my blankets here. Not much of a comfort.

It’s very sad, sleeping like this. You go through a lot of thinking. I don’t have that support where I can pay and get across. And I just think, for the next day, how am I going to make it, how am I going to live, what am I going to do? Going to sleep with an empty stomach, waking up very sad.

NICK SCHIFRIN: He sleeps now among the dead. They are his neighbors of necessity, and, from them, despite everything he’s been through, he takes resilience.

MARTIN LOPEZ: I will overcome this. I have to. There’s no life here, no life.

NICK SCHIFRIN: For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Nick Schifrin in Nogales, Mexico.

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