FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Divided Families

It’s a steamy, overcast monsoon morning in Nogales, Sonora, just across the border from the United States. I’ve come to learn more about what happens to Mexican deportees, many parents of children, who are left off by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)  in downtown Nogales at two in the morning. My inquiries take me here, just three blocks south of the Mariposa border truck crossing on the northern end of town. I’m in front of a ramshackle structure that barely passes for a building that has been safe haven for thousands of deported immigrants since the late 1990s.

Rickety stairs at the narrow sidewalk reach up into a dark social hall walled in by hand-painted murals. One panel shows a trimly bearded Jesucristo in a baseball cap and jean jacket presiding over a last breakfast or supper of beans and rice. Another is a Frida Kahlo knockoff—a tall, dark, handsome woman carrying an armful of lilies, her lower half blocked by an almost caricatured monarch butterfly. Men folding clothes in comedor.

I’m at  the Kino Border Initiative’s Aid Center for Deported Migrants (CAMDEP), run by the Jesuit Refugee Service USA and numerous other supporting organizations. Around here, it’s known simply as the comedor (dining hall). This day, nearly 100 deportees, mostly men, some women, sit on benches, many with heads in hands, waiting for the first civilized meal in a nightmarish odyssey starting with their arrest days, weeks, or months before.

Despite record low apprehensions by the Border Patrol in Arizona, the busiest crossing on the U.S.-Mexico border, ICE dragnet operations continue to trap and detain hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country. Many of these deportees are people who have entered the country without inspection more than once. That re-entry charge, a felony crime, translates to incarceration in filthy, overcrowded cells, and lengthy  detentions while waiting for hearings. Ultimately, for the majority whose families can’t afford bonds up to $30,000, the charge also means deportation.

Staff member Father Ricardo Elford gets up to briefly bless the disconsolate crowd: “Lord, bless all these travelers, whether they are going to the south or to the north. Give them strength to do what they have to do. We pray for their safety, for their families, and their children, and ask God’s blessing over the food before us today, amen. Any  announcements?” The Kino Initiative staff nurse, straw basket of bandages and medicine in hand, announces she is ready to administer first aid for blisters, bites, cuts, and other wounds. Madre Lorena asks for volunteers to fold donated clothing. Dozens raise their hands. A psychologist visiting from Colima, in Central Mexico, conducts a group exercise that gets people, despite themselves, moving their eyes and bodies in different directions.

“It’s a little body movement used to help reduce the effect of the trauma,” she later explains, as we sit on a cement wall at the Grupos Beta headquarters a half mile from CAMDEP. “These people have been out in the desert, some have been in prison or detention, many don’t have a cent to their names. All they have is the moment and in that moment we try to help them look forward, not backward. No, never look backward.”

Grupos Beta, a Mexican federal entity, was started in 1991 as a sort of “humane” Border Patrol. Members, often former employees of branches of Mexican police, assist migrants and deportees to get back to their towns and villages safely.  Along the border, Grupos Beta has a hygiene and first aid station, showers, free telephones, and, for many, the connections that will get them back to the towns and villages in Michoacán, Puebla, Zacatecas, and Oaxaca, where their journeys started days or decades earlier.

As we drive up to the agency’s Nogales office, men stand in line to make the long-dreaded phone call to the wife or children left without breadwinners in San Diego, New Orleans, or Phoenix. “Hola mi preciosa. Tu papi tenía que ir, pero pronto regrese, pronto, cuida bien a tu mami” (Hello, my sweetheart, your daddy had to leave but he’ll be back soon, very soon, take care of your mama for me). Miguel, a distraught father of three arrested for unpaid traffic tickets in northern California, turns from the dead phone and says to no one in particular, in accented English: “What will happen to my family? They have no money, they’ll be evicted.” Another traveler, Davi, says he thinks his wife filed for divorce now that he is deported, and he will never see his three–year old daughter again. “After I was arrested, the mother moved and took the baby; I don’t know where they are.”  When I say I am from the other side, he desperately writes down the last phone number of his ex, and the baby’s name, Graciela. “Graciela, Graciela. Just put an ad in the newspaper and say: father, recently deported, looking for his baby girl, Graciela. And just put your email. What are the chances?”  He looks at me with tears of resignation. The therapist slides over closer to him and says, “Maybe you won’t see her again very soon. But when you get back to your town in Oaxaca, there will be many little girls without fathers, and you can comfort them. Some little girl will be glad for your comfort. Don’t give up, look forward.”

Back at the comedor, the last group of morning diners washes dishes and folds clothes for Madre Lorena. A young man, distraught, is frantically rummaging through the hygiene items and bags of clothes. He explains “I need some deodorant, I can’t travel without deodorant.” The fellow tells me he’s from San Salvador, that he no longer has family that knows or cares about him, and he’s heading for Canada.

“Where in Canada?” I ask.  He doesn’t remember; he lost the phone number. He’s planning to travel on the undercarriages of trains heading north—eight days, it takes only eight days. “Solo ocho días.” Once he gets there, he’ll get political asylum and a job, and all will be well. Something in his manner and his look make me ask if he is Jewish. No, no, but the man who gave me my one chance, back in San Salvador, was Jewish. He said he fled from his country, too, that the government was going to harm him. He got safe haven in El Salvador. “Did he have a number tattooed on his body?” I ask and he looks at me strangely. “Yes, yes he did. On his arm. He died, he was 93. His family, they got separated. I loved that man. Now I got nobody.”

More than 50% of those criminally charged with second and third entries are parents of children. I picture myself as one of those parents. Ostensible crime leading to my deportation: broken headlight. Would I look for a remote canyon and try to cross again, knowing the odds full well?  Could I live with myself if I didn’t give it a try?

Laurie Melrood lives in Tucson and is a long-time immigrants rights advocate.

This article originally appeared on NACLA.

More articles by:

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

April 23, 2019
Peter Belmont
The Monroe Doctrine is Back, and as the Latest US Attack on Cuba Shows, Its Purpose is to Serve the Neoliberal Order
David Schultz
The Mueller Report: Trump Too Inept to Obstruct Justice
Geoff Beckman
Crazy Uncle Joe and the Can’t We All Just Get Along Democrats
Medea Benjamin
Activists Protect DC Venezuelan Embassy from US-supported Coup
Patrick Cockburn
What Revolutionaries in the Middle East Have Learned Since the Arab Spring
Jim Goodman
Don’t Fall for the Hype of Free Trade Agreements
Lance Olsen
Climate and Forests: Land Managers Must Adapt, and Conservationists, Too
William Minter
The Coming Ebola Epidemic
Tony McKenna
Stephen King’s IT: a 2019 Retrospective
David Swanson
Pentagon Claims 1,100 High Schools Bar Recruiters; Peace Activists Offer $1,000 Award If Any Such School Can Be Found
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
April 22, 2019
Melvin Goodman
The NYTs Tries to Rehabilitate Bloody Gina Haspel
Robert Fisk
After ISIS, a Divided Iraq, Wounded and Grief-Stricken
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange as Neuroses
John Laforge
Chernobyl’s Deadly Effects Estimates Vary
Kenneth Surin
Mueller Time? Not for Now
Cesar Chelala
Yemen: The Triumph of Barbarism
Kerron Ó Luain
What the “White Irish Slaves” Meme Tells Us About Identity Politics
Andy Piascik
Grocery Store Workers Take on Billion Dollar Multinational
Seiji Yamada – Gregory G. Maskarinec
Health as a Human Right: No Migrants Need Apply
Howard Lisnoff
Loose Bullets and Loose Cannons
Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada
Dreaming in Miami
Graham Peebles
Consuming Stuff: The Polluting World of Fashion
Robert Dodge
Earth Day: Our Planet in Peril
Weekend Edition
April 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What Will It Take For Trump to Get His Due?
Roy Eidelson
Is the American Psychological Association Addicted to Militarism and War?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Time is Blind, Man is Stupid
Joshua Frank
Top 20 Mueller Report “Findings”
Rob Urie
Why Russiagate Will Never Go Away
Paul Street
Stephen Moore Gets Something Right: It’s Capitalism vs. Democracy
Russell Mokhiber
Why Boeing and Its Executives Should be Prosecuted for Manslaughter
T.J. Coles
The Battle for Latin America: How the U.S. Helped Destroy the “Pink Tide”
Ron Jacobs
Ho Chi Minh City: Nguyen Thai Binh Street
Dean Baker
Fun Fictions in Economics
David Rosen
Trump’s One-Dimensional Gender Identity
Kenn Orphan
Notre Dame: We Have Always Belonged to Her
Robert Hunziker
The Blue Ocean Event and Collapsing Ecosystems
Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
Paddy Wagon
Brett Wilkins
Jimmy Carter: US ‘Most Warlike Nation in History of the World’
John W. Whitehead
From Jesus Christ to Julian Assange: When Dissidents Become Enemies of the State
Nick Pemberton
To Never Forget or Never Remember
Stephen Cooper
My Unforgettable College Stabbings
Louis Proyect
A Leftist Rejoinder to the “Capitalist Miracle”
Louisa Willcox
Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic and the Need for a New Approach to Managing Wildlife
Brian Cloughley
Britain Shakes a Futile Fist and Germany Behaves Sensibly
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail