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U.S. makes deported immigrants take the long way home

Officials expand a program to transfer detainees from one end of the U.S.-Mexico border to the other, saying it's a deterrent to further crossing attempts. Critics say it leaves immigrants vulnerable to crime.

September 29, 2011|By Richard Marosi, Los Angeles Times

These reports, like many others regarding deportees, are unconfirmed. Researchers and human rights groups who have tried to document cases in the cities of Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo have been threatened, forcing them to stop their work.

U.S. officials said they are aware of the violent situation, and said they have stopped deporting immigrants with criminal records into Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso. But repatriations to other hot spots continue. The city of Mexicali, which has been largely spared gang wars, is relatively safe.

"The agency is not in the practice of allowing detainees to request repatriation to specific locations in Mexico," reads a statement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement given to No More Deaths, an Arizona-based immigrant rights group.

For border officials, the program's appeal seems obvious. Many of the immigrants deported to Mexicali on Sept. 20 showed up later that day at a government office where immigrants are given bus tickets to go home. U.S. officials said only about one-quarter of immigrants deported through the program are encountered again trying to cross the border.

Eliseo Jimenez, a skinny 20-year-old, painted a picture of just how grueling it is to overcome a distant deportation. After being caught near San Diego in August, he was flown to Texas and deported through Brownsville, the opposite end of the 2,000-mile border. He hitchhiked and walked back to Baja California, surviving an armed robbery and losing 15 pounds during the monthlong trip, he said.

When he finally reached Tijuana, he tried to cross the border and got caught again, he said. Jimenez and several other immigrants said the biggest challenge was finding smugglers they could trust in unfamiliar cities. Many stole their money, others worked with bandits and some were incompetent or fearful of being arrested.

"The smuggling guides we hired wouldn't even cross the border. They tried directing us using radios and cellphones," said Rigoberto Rosales, 30, who failed in three crossing attempts.

He and his friend had planned to pick crops in Salinas; instead they got a bus ticket to Guadalajara. "We're going home," Rosales said.

Montes also wasn't up for another attempt. A few hours after being repatriated, he and a dozen other immigrants boarded buses. He was heading home to Cuernavaca, but wouldn't concede defeat. "If someone is committed to crossing, this only makes it a little more difficult," he said.

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