Across the border, "a humanitarian crisis" is brewing
Bienvenido Paisano. It's a message that welcomes Mexican compatriots driving or flying back to Mexico for holidays or to visit family and...
Seattle Times staff reporter
It's a message that welcomes Mexican compatriots driving or flying back to Mexico for holidays or to visit family and friends.
They aren't just empty words but part of the government embrace of its citizens abroad who remain connected — and financially committed — to the country.
At airports and border crossings, the returnees are given information on staying safe and reporting any government corruption they encounter.
But for those Mexicans unceremoniously returned home — those deported and dropped off by U.S. immigration in Mexican border towns such as Nogales, Tijuana and Juárez — there is no such welcome.
"The poor undocumented guy who gets sent back is seen as a burden on the government," said Erica Dahl-Bredine, country manager for Catholic Relief Services' Mexico program in Tucson, Ariz.
"Those who have documents are seen as the heroes."
While the Mexican government is taking small steps in response to growing criticism that it ignores Mexicans deported from the U.S. — unveiling a test program in Tijuana last week to provide emergency help to those at the border — experts believe it's not nearly enough.
There appears little consensus on where the bulk of the responsibility should lie.
Many say the Mexican government must address the conditions that cause its citizens to flock north in the first place. Others believe the U.S. creates problems when it deposits hundreds of thousands of those same people — jobless, some criminals — back into Mexico.
About 60 percent of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living and working in the U.S. are from Mexico. Last year, immigration officials returned more than 870,000 Mexicans, most of them caught along the border before they ever became established in the U.S.
Illegal immigrants living in the U.S. contribute a big share of the $24 billion that Mexicans living abroad sent home last year. Under one program, Mexico's federal, state and municipal governments even match money sent by citizens to help build roads, schools and other infrastructure.
"The money being sent back to Mexico exceeds any U.S. foreign-aid package," said Walter Coleman, pastor of the Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago, which gave sanctuary to an undocumented Mexican woman before she was deported in a highly publicized case last year.
He called the remittances "a self-reliant, people-to-people operation that benefits the Mexican government in a big way."
From the Pacific Northwest, Mexican deportees are flown to San Diego on two flights a week. From there they are taken by bus to the border and delivered to Mexican immigration authorities, who verify their nationality.
At the same time, border officials are apprehending and sending back hundreds of thousands of others who sneak across the border each year.
The deportations happen "every hour, every day, every week, all year," the Mexican government says.
It has long complained the influx of deportees has generated crime in Mexico's border towns. And violence has so escalated, at least one police chief recently sought asylum in the U.S.
Once on Mexican soil, some make their way home. Others don't have the money to get themselves back.
Overall, most are biding their time, hoping to find a way to re-enter the U.S., knowing there's little for them back in the towns they had fled, where spouses and children depend on the money they sent from the states.
"It's a humanitarian crisis ... ," said Irasema Corenado, an associate professor at the University of Texas at El Paso.
But it's a crisis that is the responsibility of the Mexican government, not the U.S., immigration officials say.
"These are Mexican nationals that are being returned," said Neil Clark, Seattle-based field director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "If there is trouble in the border towns ... . The U.S. can't be responsible for everything. We're doing as much as we feel we have to."
Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors tougher policies, points out that while Mexico is always quick to assert its sovereignty, "with that comes responsibility."
"The migration flow is often the result of conditions that Mexico created and allowed to fester, and the consequences of that are theirs to deal with."
Mexican officials call deportation a "huge challenge of great proportion."
And officials point to the ways they are responding — citing programs for immigrant children separated from their parents, and the limited financial assistance Mexican consulates provide stranded deportees wanting to go home.
Last week, the Mexican government also unveiled a pilot program called Humane Repatriation, guaranteeing deportees temporary shelter, emergency medical care and, if they need it, short-term employment.
It will also provide them with identification, which many lack. Launched in Tijuana, which receives more than 40 percent of Mexican deportations, the program may be started in other border towns.
"The idea is to create conditions so that repatriated Mexicans are incorporated successfully — if they desire — into the development of the nation," said Francisco Javier Reynoso Nuño, of Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Migración.
But no such program was in place when Christian Quiroz was deported last fall from the Seattle area, where he had worked as a drywaller.
Quiroz, 24, said he was stuck for weeks in Tijuana, with no money to get to his family in Mexico City.
His mother, who had brought him to the U.S. 17 years before, had been deported two months earlier.
Quiroz said he wandered around Tijuana homeless and without identification before he was picked up by police and held. "They thought I was South American," he said. "I was put in a holding cell for eight hours until I got cleared."
His family finally came through with money for a bus ticket for the four-day trip to Mexico City.
"The government doesn't do anything for its people here," he said in Mexico City. "Why would it help those of us who have been deported?"
It was a far different experience for Adolfo Ojeda-Casimiro, an immigration attorney in Redmond who first came to the U.S. from Mexico as a child and is now a U.S. citizen.
He receives the "Paisano welcome" at the airport when he returns for visits: He's given information about how to report corruption and stay safe.
"Every time I go back they welcome me with more open arms," he said. "It's completely solicitous."
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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