Saturday, 8 September 2012


Deportees to Mexico's Tamaulipas 
preyed upon by gangs
Crossing the Gateway International Bridge at Brownsville, Texas.
Most have come from jobs in California and in Mexico they
will be seen as rich targets for criminal gangs.
By Richard Marosi, Los Angeles Times  September 9, 2012
MATAMOROS, MEXICO — They stuck together, walking slowly on busted sidewalks, approaching corners warily. They hurried past smoky taco stands and fleabag hotels. Nobody strayed.

Deported from Southern California the night before, the 20 men had gotten a few hours of fitful sleep at the bus station of this lawless border city. Now they just wanted to get out of town.

"We were moving as one, like a ball," said Rodrigo Barragon, 35, a former construction worker from Los Angeles. "But when I looked back, the ball had a tail."

Five men were following them. Up ahead, three vehicles screeched to a stop, blocking their way down Avenida Washington. The migrants scattered, tearing through streets and alleyways, clutching small bags that held their belongings.

Hours later, they straggled through the door of the Diocese of Matamoros migrant shelter, beneath an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. A plaque beside the entryway bore a dedication: "To the 72 murdered migrants and to those we know nothing about," men and women who were massacred or who simply disappeared.

Even this shelter couldn't guarantee safety: Fifteen residents were dragged away at gunpoint on Christmas Eve from the dining room where the newcomers now stood.

The men headed deeper into the compound, through an open yard surrounded by razor-wire fence, to the dormitory. There, they found a man sprawled on the floor, his legs caked with blood.

The migrants had been flown 1,500 miles to the Texas-Mexico border as part of a U.S. enforcement program aimed at making it harder for them to return. Many were deported after traffic violations or drunk driving arrests exposed their undocumented status, or after repeatedly entering the country illegally.

Now, they joined in prayer, then quietly ate dinner.

"I feel like something bad can happen at any time," said Serafin Salazar, a former car mechanic from El Monte.

U.S. immigration authorities have sharply increased deportations to one of Mexico's most fiercely contested drug-war battlegrounds, the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, where few migrants have any connections or family.

Repatriations to the besieged border cities of Matamoros, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo jumped nearly fivefold from 25,376 in 2006 to 124,729 last year, according to Mexico's National Institute of Migration. More than one-fourth of all deportees from the U.S. are sent to Tamaulipas, even as violence here escalates.

Deportees arriving in Matamoros are schooled quickly about the dangers they will face. The moment these 20 men crossed Gateway International Bridge from Brownsville, Texas, orange-shirted agents from Grupo Beta, the Mexican migrant safety force, gathered them for a lecture:

Criminal gangs consider you rich targets.

They will try to get phone numbers of your relatives in the U.S. for ransoms.

Dial 0 after making calls on public phones so previously dialed numbers can't be accessed.…

Some of the new arrivals scribbled phone numbers backward, in case they fell into the wrong hands. They stuffed the pieces of paper into their shoes. Then they squeezed onto the Grupo Beta pickup trucks, which whisked them to the city bus station.

Stay inside, the agents told them, promising to pick them up in the morning and help arrange discounted bus fares for trips home. Many of the migrants were heading to towns and cities deep in Mexico's interior, a two-day bus ride away.

More in the LA Times:

Peter’s Comment

Praise to the LA Times for publishing this moving account of people stuck between a heartless government north of the border and criminal gangs to the south.

Deporting people who have jobs, homes, families and pay taxes is a pointless exercise that is fueled only be racial prejudice and an unfounded fear of losing one’s own job or having to work for lower wages.

The truth is that when a country gains population its economy expands and prospers. When a country loses population its economy contracts, businesses close and people lose jobs.

The United States promotes free trade between nations and there is no earthly reason why that free-flow cannot be enhanced by removing international labor barriers.  

There is so much to gain, nothing to lose.