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Young returnees start over in Mexico after growing up in the U.S.

Even before recent raids by the Department of Homeland Security, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants have been deported annually. And those who grew up in the U.S. have found themselves living in what feels like a foreign country. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro talks to some young people who are starting over and feeling culture shock after having to leave the U.S.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The U.S. Department of Homeland Security conducted a series of raids over New Year's weekend on undocumented immigrants in a number of states, including Georgia, North Carolina and Texas.

    Federal officials said they have taken more than 100 people into custody, most of whom arrived in the U.S. within the past two years, and are now awaiting deportation.

    But immigration groups are fighting back, and the nation's highest immigration court issued a ruling last night to delay some of the deportations.

    Even before these moves, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants were being deported annually. And for those who grew up in the U.S., that means they have found themselves living in what feels like a foreign country.

    Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from Mexico.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    Miguel Ramirez works in Mexico City, and an almost daily ritual is to call his mother in Saint Louis. He lived there too, until he was deported three years ago, and banned for life from ever reentering the U.S.

  • MIGUEL RAMIREZ, Returnee:

    She's — she's devastated, you know?

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    The shy 23-year-old, brought to the U.S. by his mother as a young child, admits he fell in with the wrong crowd. He got caught in a burglary and his sentence was community service, until:

  • MIGUEL RAMIREZ:

    I get a note from the judge telling me that, because you're an illegal immigrant, you don't qualify for this program, and you're going to have to start doing your time.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    Most of his time was actually done in immigrant detention centers before he was dropped off at the Mexican border.

  • MIGUEL RAMIREZ:

    That, to me, was rough. It was one of the roughest things ever. But, I mean, I had to accept it. I had no choice.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    Ramirez is one of several young Mexican returnees profiled in a book called "Los Otros Dreamers" by scholar and social activist Jill Anderson.

    Some have committed felonies, she says, but the vast majority have no criminal history or just minor infractions.

    JILL ANDERSON, Author, "Los Otros Dreamers": For many, it's contact with their local police for anything from underage drinking, accusations from a neighbor or friends. One young woman was baby-sitting and had a problem with the family.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    In 2012, President Obama issued an executive order that allowed the children of undocumented workers, many of whom had grown up in the United States, the option to remain.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    Specifically for certain young people sometimes called dreamers.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    The order came after Congress rejected similar legislation called the DREAM Act. And it came after perhaps a half-million young Mexicans were either deported or chose to return.

  • WOMAN:

    This was a cute guy I had a crush on in my freshman year.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    Viridiana and Maggie belong to Los Otros Dreamers, or the Other Dreamers, a group that mostly meets online, brought together by Anderson's book.

    Viridiana says, growing up in Iowa, she felt no stigma over her illegal status.

  • VIRIDIANA, Returnee:

    My parents always told me, never tell anyone that we're here undocumented. I mean, at first, it was just kind of like, OK, I'm young and who cares? Like, I mean, what's so — what's wrong in being undocumented?

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    It was no big deal growing up, she says, until:

    Dad goes to work one day and…

  • VIRIDIANA:

    Never comes home. They went to his workplace, and they took him.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    Twenty-two years after he arrived and settled quietly in small-town Iowa, Juan Vargas was arrested and deported. That brought abrupt, wrenching decisions for others in the family.

  • VIRIDIANA:

    My older sister, she — she decided to stay in the United States, and I totally understand that. It is my home too. I do miss it, but, you know, I would rather stay with my parents.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    Viridiana quit her job and, with her mother, returned to Mexico, against her father's wishes.

  • VIRIDIANA:

    He said: "I don't want you here. I don't want you to be here. Just stay home."

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    Twenty-five-year-old Maggie got the same advice from her parents. Home for her was Dalton, Georgia, where she too felt no different from her wide circle of friends until high school.

  • MAGGIE, Returnee:

    I wanted to go to work. I wanted to find scholarships. That's when things started to — wait, so you're different? That's when I started to actually recognize I was undocumented and that I wasn't — I didn't have the same opportunities.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    Lacking money to go to college or get a legal, good-paying job, she decided, agonizingly, to move to Mexico, a country she'd left at age 3.

  • MAGGIE:

    My parents stayed. I came by myself at 18. And it was during — this month, it was like if somebody had died inside of me, because it was like, OK, bye, house, bye, church, bye, friends, bye, school, bye, dog. I mean, I wasn't prepared.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    Mexico wasn't prepared for her or other returnees either. Until recently, U.S. education credentials were not even recognized. Aside from official indifference, Viridiana says there's social stigma and suspicion that they are criminal deportees.

  • VIRIDIANA:

    Why are you back? That's like the first thing that they ask. Why are you back? What is the problem? They treat us like crap.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    Author Jill Anderson:

  • JILL ANDERSON:

    They realize, wow, I thought I was Mexican. I don't talk like a Mexican because of my accent when I speak Spanish. People actually will call me pocho or gringo, and question as to why I'm even here.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    There is one industry that is happy they're here: call centers, whose operators speak American English.

  • WOMAN:

    I get to meet people from all over the United States when they call my employer with their customer service questions.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    Call centers have proliferated across Mexican cities, their promotional videos like this one on the Internet geared to American customers. It's one of few places where returnees can find work. They even waived the requirement of a high school diploma for Miguel Ramirez, and he says they pay a decent wage.

  • MIGUEL RAMIREZ:

    This job is very tedious. You feel like you're getting nowhere. It doesn't make me feel very successful or proud of myself, to be honest with you. I want to do something more.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    Call centers do report a high turnover. And living in Mexico, where many people struggle with life's more basic needs, Viridiana says it was hard for her to deal with what she saw as trivial concerns.

  • VIRIDIANA:

    I couldn't handle the calls. I was just like, oh, my God, like, these people that — why are they just complaining about their dish service? Like, really? And then I'm thinking like, girl, you used to be one of those dish people that would call and be like, what is wrong with you? Your service sucks.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • VIRIDIANA:

    Like, that really bothers me, and I cannot do this job.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    She now works as a transportation dispatcher and lives with her parents. Her mother, Patrice Hidalgo, says, on a fraction of their former income, life here is difficult.

    PATRICE HIDALGO, Returnee (through interpreter): Here, because of my age I can't get a job. And the security situation is not good. It's much worse now in Mexico than it was before we left.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    And the security situation along the migration routes to the U.S., now overrun by gangs trafficking in drugs and people, keeps many from fleeing Mexico again.

    Do you ever contemplate going back to the United States illegally?

  • MIGUEL RAMIREZ:

    I do. I do contemplate it, not a lot, because there's a risk.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    For her part, Maggie got a job teaching English, and she attends college, hoping to get into tourism promotion.

  • MAGGIE:

    I want to travel more in this country. I know it's beautiful. I know it has many positive things. And I'm starting to see that beautiful side of Mexico.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    And she plans to visit the U.S. again, and often, only now with passport and visa.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    For the PBS NewsHour, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Leon, Mexico. Fred's reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

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