They live in holes along sewage canals, exploited by gangs of drug traffickers who recruit them for selling drugs. Stories of kidnappings, suffering and broken dreams.
There is very little light in the culvert, and it takes several minutes for our eyes to adjust to darkness. Miguel and his wife, Maria Luisa, are sitting on the ground of El Bordo, the sewage canal where they have found shelter from the cold since they were expelled from the United States. You can hear voices and the noise of cars all around. This sewage canal which splits the Mexican border town Tijuana into two parts, has been home to deported immigrants from USA for years, “We lived in the US for more than 17 years”, says Miguel. “Our children were born there. I was caught while I was shopping at a supermarket in Las Vegas, Nevada. I had just finished a hard day of work in a casino. My wife and I were immediately deported here to Tijuana.”
Maria Luisa continues: “We had some money, so we got a room in a small hotel. We intended to re-enter the United States to take our children with us. A person told us that he could help us. We trusted him. But on the evening we were supposed to cross the border, four people covered with a hood, tied and beat us. They robbed us of the few things we had and threatened to rape me and kill the two of us unless we gave them $12,000. We still had some savings and our relatives and friends in the US added the rest of the money. The robbers stole even our shoes and we were left half-naked in the desert. So we came here to El Bordo, where we met others that experienced the same misfortune. They have told us we are lucky to be still alive. “Miguel shows us the photos of his two children, a boy aged 15 and a girl of 12. He says he will do anything he can to go back to the USA and reunite with them.
Though hailing from Guadalajara, he feels a foreigner in Mexico. “I have lived in the United States for many years, and I never went back to visit my native city because I was afraid of not being able to re-enter the United States. Two of my siblings reached me in Las Vegas and they work there. They constantly live in fear of being arrested and deported.”
Commenting on the latest Obama’ s immigration measures, Miguel says “On the night of November 21, many of us gathered in front of the TV screen of the bar nearby since it was announced the President would give a major speech on immigration. We wondered whether we would be able to go back to USA. At the Mexican Consulate they told us that they are going to help us”.
The new system
The new executive orders will defer potential deportation for about 4 million people of the nation’s estimated 11,3 million unauthorized immigrants. The decision is expected to affect immigrants who have already been living in the country for at least five years and who are parents of US-born children. Under the new system, those applying for protection must have a clean criminal record, pay taxes, and pass a background check. Deportation protection and access to work permits could be extended to up to 5 million undocumented immigrants living in the US. Obama ’s immigration plan won’t grant immigrants federal benefits including health care tax credits.
“Yes, it seems to be a good initiative, but we must not forget that protection from deportation would be temporary, 3 years. And then what will happen? We must consider that in the US 2014 mid-term elections, the Democrats were defeated and the Republicans won the majority in the US Senate, giving party full control of Congress. However Obama’ s last moves on immigration seem to be almost all propaganda in view of the next presidential elections. “Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012 with the support of 71 percent of Latino voters and 73 percent of Asian American voters”, underlines Antonio Martinez, another ‘guest’ at El Bordo, who was also deported from the United States, where he had lived for four years. Another young man, José Luis, a native of Puebla, says: “During the Obama administration over two million immigrants have been deported, and 450,000 in 2014 alone. As we get out of the culvert, we can see all around us many ‘ñongos’, stuffy cardboard shacks in Tijuana’s scorching heat, where more than 2000 deported immigrants live, others, like Miguel and Maria Luisa live in holes along sewage canals”, Francisca Josephina, a young lawyer to the Office for Human Rights in Tijuana,explains to us .
Some kids, aged between 8 and 14, are playing in an open space turned into a football field. Some of them arrived last week and are waiting to cross the border. Between March and October of 2014, an estimated 56,000 boys and girls from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have arrived at the US border. “Some of them – says Francisca Josephina – have their parents on the other side. Many parents pay “coyotes” (or smugglers) between 8,000 and 10,000 dollars to assist their children in crossing the border. Criminal acts committed against these children at the hands of cartels and smugglers include kidnapping, robbery, extortion, sexual violence, and death “.
We pass by a shack, which is now Eduardo Telumbre’s office. This man is a 65 Mexican who has lived in Tijuana for more than ten years. He was deported during George W. Bush’ s presidency.
Eduardo in collaboration with several organisations helps find missing people. “People arrive at my office and show me the picture of a loved one who has been missing for months. Here people constantly come and go, they stop by few hours and then leave again. “According to the report of a local NGO, more than 10,000 people have disappeared since 2006 up to present. Most of them are from Central America. Eduardo confirms: “Every year, nearly half a million of Central Americans cross Mexico to reach the United States.
They travel more than three thousand kilometres. Most of them do not carry documents intentionally, in order to avoid being deported if they were stopped by the police. Their biggest fear, however, is ending up in the hands of criminal gangs and being kidnapped for ransom. “Eduardo adds: “Smugglers after kidnapping immigrants, make them telephone their relatives to ask them to send money. If the ransom is not paid within few days, immigrants are killed mercilessly and thrown into mass graves. The ransom demanded ranges between $1,500 and $5,000. The immigrants smuggling generates an annual turnover of 50 million dollars.”
The sun is already high in the sky and the smell of the sewer is almost unbearable. There are many people here at El Bordo, and many stories. All of them have something in common, a broken dream and a path of suffering.