New Rules Change The Face Of Deportation At The Border
Ricardo stepped off a white government deportation bus and crossed into a chaotic Nogales, Sonora, Mexico on a late May night.
The 35-year-old was disoriented and his upper body was wrapped in a black Velcro support vest. He said it was issued by a hospital in Denver after he hurt himself when he fell from a scaffold while hanging drywall.
Ricardo was at Mexico’s National Migration Ministry office at the border in a gritty white hallway with narrow steel benches bolted to the tile floors. Two doors - one leads to Mexico’s side of the port of entry, the other leads into Mexico. A beggar chanted softly under the harsh fluorescent lights outside a border dentist office.
Ricardo still bore marks on his stomach and on his right side.
His story is a common one. He’d crossed 10 years ago on a tourist visa, stayed illegally in the United States and sent money back to his wife in Mexico. Until he was injured.
After Ricardo was injured, he said immigration agents were called and appeared at the hospital where he was detained, then bused to Nogales and ended up here.
Federal records show that apprehensions along the Mexico border are down. Border Patrol charts on the numbers show lines plummeting in near dead vertical drops from 47,000 arrests in November to 11,000 last April.
At the same time, Immigration and Customs Enforcement numbers have stayed much the same under President Trump as they did under former President Obama.
According to ICE, 57,735 people were deported from January 20 to April 29, 2017. Last year, in the same four months, 66,484 people were deported. And in 2014, there were 91,826 deportations in the same time period.
Taken together, those numbers create a new reality on Mexico’s border: A changing demographic of deportees hovering on the foreign streets of a country where they were born and separated from a country they called home.
At the Kino Border Initiative, a volunteer leads 40 people through a prayer exercise before breakfast at the church-run kitchen for deportees and those heading north. People awaiting a hot meal giggle as the volunteer leads their chant.
The shelter serves up about 46,000 meals a year and this year is on pace to match that, dropping arrests at the border or no, said Father Sean Carroll.
"This year we’re serving more people who had been living in the U.S. for a number of years and then were detained and deported," Carroll said.
Arnulfo Hernandez stands outside the shelter. He wears a rosary over a rock T-shirt and a worn towel draped over one shoulder.
"I was arguing with my wife, you know, just words and my neighbors called the cops on me and ever since Trump became president and you go to jail and you don’t have social security, you automatically, ICE get a hold of you," Hernandez said.
He’d lived in Ohio for 18 years. He’s lived in a Nogales, Mexico shelter for the past two weeks. Hernandez said he’ll probably return to his mother’s home in Oaxaca.
"I think it’s time I go back. I wanted go back to the U.S. but not right now," Hernandez said. "I don’t think it’s a good idea right now."
At the Juan Bosco migrant shelter in the hills of the city, a drunk musician weaves back and forth strumming his guitar and singing to the migrant men waiting inside the shelter’s chapel.
Juan Francisco Loureiro runs the shelter. He said the number of migrants he sees has dropped but, like his Mexican federal government counterparts, he’s suspicious as to why.
"Yo considero que este Presidente Trump es lo que piensa hacer. Detener mucha gente y soltarla de un golpe," he said.
Loureiro worries that the U.S. will deport people held in over capacity detention centers in one massive rush, overwhelming Mexico’s border cities.
As for Ricardo, the injured man at the port, "Well, I'm going home," he said.
Sheepishly, he said he'll go home to a small town in southern Sonora, broke and injured, his only belongings stuffed into a clear plastic bag emblazoned with the blue Homeland Security Department logo. After that? He’ll probably try to cross again.