by Traci Tamura
Recently, I traveled to Nogales, Mexico to work on a CNN story with reporter Thelma Gutierrez and Senior Photojournalist Gregg Canes, about what happens to undocumented immigrants who are deported from the United States back to Mexico at all hours of the night. We spent a couple of nights on the border to meet some of the recent deportees.
We first ran into Mario, who had just been deported from a detention center in Arizona. This family man with three children was living and working in construction when he was first detained in Washington state. Mario had lived in the United States for 25 years, but now all he had to show for it was a backpack filled with dirty clothes and his weathered Bible. Mario told us he has been away from his family for almost two years and one of the things he misses most is his four-year-old son. His eyes welled up when he told us every time he calls home, his young son says, "Daddy, I want to fly over in a helicopter to pick you up and bring you back home." Mario knows that won't happen but lets his son hold on to that dream for the time being.
Next, we met 19-year-old Ariel. His mother brought him into the U.S. at the age of two, and he grew up as a typical Southern California beach boy. When we found Ariel, he was wearing his hooded sweatshirt and sitting outside a humanitarian aid office for migrants. He was a scared, dazed and confused young man who only had a backpack with a few pieces of clothes, a cell phone that had run out of minutes and a single picture of his beloved mother – who was also deported back to Mexico. Ariel was lost and not sure what he would do next since he was essentially a stranger in his strange "home" land. But as scared as he was about himself, what struck me most was how concerned he was about leaving his younger sister – who is an American citizen – behind. The love and paternal feelings he had toward his sister made him seem older than his years. But when he talked about how terrifying the whole deportation experience was for him, he seemed just like an American teenager from San Diego.
One of the last people we met on our journey was Karla, a single mother deported from Phoenix who was forced to leave her two sons – both American citizens – behind in Arizona. Without relatives to care for them, the boys ended up in the custody of Child Protective Services. Karla was brought to the U.S. with her sister and mother when she was a teenager. She’d made a home in Phoenix for 26 years until she was detained after a domestic dispute with her boyfriend. Talking through tears at one of the few shelters for deportees, she told us she misses her kids dearly but knows she can’t offer them a better life in Mexico. She tells us that if it came down to it she would rather give them up for adoption than subject them to a dangerous life on the streets where she can’t protect them. As if to punctuate our conversation, gunshots rang out in the night as we talked to Karla. We all jumped a bit. Karla told us that happens all the time and is precisely why she would not bring her children with her.
The fear of being across the border in Mexico at night lessens when you meet and talk with people who are still in the midst of their journey. When we were done with our story we had the liberty to simply drive back across the border… but it's hard to forget the people we met.