Arrival Stories of Deported Americans

Imagine living in the United States for nearly your entire life, only to be sent across the border one day.

Photo by Getty Images/jacus.

Excerpted from Deported Americans: Life after Deportation to Mexico by Beth C. Caldwell, Duke University Press, 2019.

The process of moving someone who has been lawfully present in the United States from the category of lawful immigrant to deportee highlights the liminal nature of immigration status. Categories are not fixed. Rather, they are fluid and can change at any moment. When people who think of themselves as Americans arrive in Mexico after being deported, they widely report that they do not feel like they belong. They experience their arrival as an ejection from their homes rather than a return to them, feeling like strangers in a strange land.

Arrival Stories: Arriving from the United States

After Victor was dropped off in San Luis Colorado, a town just south of the Arizona border, the soles of his shoes flapped open as he walked because Border Patrol had cut them open to look for contraband. They kept his ID, his money, his wedding ring—all of his belongings. The money and ID presented a particular problem because he could not even pick up money from Western Union without a government-issued identification. He was able to call his wife from a migrant shelter. “I’m cold. . .  and hungry,” she remembers him telling her. He met another deportee whose family lived in the border region. Victor asked his wife to wire some money to this new acquaintance, who was able to pick it up for him. “A risky move,” his wife recalls, given the recency of this friendship. He bought a bus ticket to head south toward Playa del Carmen, where a cousin lived. En route, the bus was in a major accident. He was injured. Others died.

Farther east, David was dropped off in Juárez, right across the border from El Paso, Texas. While he was in immigration detention, he learned that he would be deported to Juárez. He was lucky because at least he knew in advance where he would be dropped off. Most people don’t. He was also unlucky because his destination was Juárez—a border town with an infamous reputation for violence. His wife booked him a hotel room for one night and paid in advance, knowing that he would probably not have access to cash once deported. She also used an internet program to create a detailed map showing him the path to take from the border directly to the hotel. She mailed it to him while he was still in the detention facility so that he would know where to go. He would stay the night in the hotel and would make his way to the bus station the next day to travel to a safer part of the country.

Another deportee tears up recalling the day that his wife traveled from their home in Utah to meet him in Juárez. “She had never been to Mexico,” he recalls, “and there she was standing out on the street in the most dangerous city in the country, holding our baby just waiting for me all day in the sun.” In Reynoso, a government-funded group greets deportees with a sandwich and a ride to the closest bus station. Rumor has it that cartels recruit recent deportees, so the government has a vested interest in helping them to get out of town. “They don’t care where you go—they just want you out of there,” explains one deportee.

7/5/2019 8:01:12 AM

I'm an Ivy League graduate who spent the better part of her life in America as a permanent resident, I'm to this day married to a tribal member, we've been together for 18 years. I was stripped of my residency for no reason other than that the lawyers and the immigration officer wanted to make a quick grand and ruined my life in order to do so. It's a long story and it's immaterial at this point. I've been in exile for 12 years, my father is dying of cancer in Texas and I cannot be with him. Thank you USA!

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