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A Day In The Life Of

Mexican Repatriation

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Laura Stump, the U.S. Coordinator for the Migrant Resource Center in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, reviews medical records of a man with a broken ankle who illegally immigrated into the United States near Douglas, Arizona. Photos by Jonathon Shacat.
Regularly Forgotten In The Discussion Over Immigration In The United States, Repatriated Undocumented Immigrants Offered Assistance, Discounted Transportation Back To Their Hometowns

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By Jonathon Shacat

Special for Modern Times Magazine

March 27, 2013 — A plate stacked high with bologna sandwiches was offered to a group of tired and hungry individuals one Friday earlier this month in Agua Prieta, Sonora, a Mexican border city across from Douglas, Ariz.

But almost every day, the sight is replayed — a regular scene in the ongoing drama of repatriated and undocumented immigrants from Mexico who got caught entering the United States.

Most, if not all, of the people in this group had paid $3,000 or more to follow a smuggler across the desert, but they were apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol and then deported back to Mexico through Douglas, Ariz. They were seeking help at the Migrant Resource Center in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. Operated by Frontera de Cristo ministry in Douglas, it has helped more than 71,000 people since opening in June of 2006.

The center provides free food, drinks, clothing, basic medical care, and connection to services, such as a free bed in a shelter for the night or a free or discounted bus fare to return to their hometown in Mexico.

"If they had a horrible experience and they don't have any money or support and they think their only option is to cross again, we can send them home, if they want," said Laura Stump, co-coordinator of the Migrant Resource Center.

So far this year, more than 1,100 people have received assistance from the center, including 517 in January and 590 in February. The number is expected to increase significantly in March and April, based on historical trends, said co-coordinator Adalberto Ramos, who has worked at the center for more than five years.

In 2012, 2,008 people entered the center in March and 1,248 entered in April, versus 154 in January, 377 in February and 501 in May.

Stump, who started working in September of last year, said the people who come to the center are crossing the border into Arizona near Sonoita, Sasabe and Naco, but not near Douglas. Presumably, most people who cross near Douglas are deported elsewhere. One recent exception was a man who climbed the fence near Douglas and broke his ankle (a common injury) and ended up getting deported back through Agua Prieta.

But not all apprehended, undocumented immigrants caught entering the United States get dropped at Agua Prieta. Similar scenes are replayed throughout the border and interior of the country.

Brent Cagen, a public information officer with Border Patrol's Tucson Sector, said the location of repatriation depends upon the impact program in which the individual is placed. During intake processing, all individuals undergo criminal history and immigration checks using the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System.

"Each person is then carefully evaluated, taking into consideration unique factors surrounding their situation including any compelling humanitarian factors. Individuals are then placed into an impact program intended to deter the individual from making an additional attempt to unlawfully enter the U.S.," he said.

In October 2012, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Mexican Ministry of the Interior announced the Interior Repatriation Initiative, a new pilot to provide humane, safe and orderly repatriation of Mexican nationals to the interior of Mexico and ultimately to their hometowns, instead of returning them to towns on the U.S. border with Mexico, Cagen said.

The first repatriation flight of 131 Mexican nationals departed El Paso International Airport on Oct. 2, 2012, and flights were scheduled to continue until Nov. 29, 2012, according to a press release. The program is no longer active, but it is not known if it will be implemented again in the future.

"Historically, a significant number of individuals are not from the northern border towns to which they are repatriated, leaving them in communities where they have no ties or family support. Removing Mexican nationals to the interior of Mexico is part of an effort to reduce repeat attempts to illegally enter the United States, avoid the loss of human life, and minimize the potential for exploitation of illegal migrants by human smuggling and trafficking organizations as well as other criminal organizations," states the press release.

Oscar De la Torre Amezcua, the Mexican Consul in Douglas, said the number of people who die in the desert in Cochise County has been decreasing over the past several years, and no deaths have been reported during 2013.

"The following statistics of the deaths each year are illustrative of our prevention campaign: 16 in 2007, 19 in 2008, 18 in 2009, 10 in 2010, five in 2011, and two last year," he said. “The last year we had two deaths — May and March. But we think that one death is too much because we are talking about human lives."

According to a press release issued in February by Customs and Border Protection, Border Patrol apprehensions in Arizona dropped to 124,631 — the lowest level in 19 years — during fiscal year 2012. Apprehensions dropped more than 43 percent in the past two years and more than 82 percent since the highest point in 2000.

"The number of Border Patrol agents in Arizona rose to its highest level with more than 5,100 assigned, leading to unprecedented border security between ports of entry and in remote regions of the Sonoran Desert. In addition, Border Patrol agents seized more than half a billion dollars in illicit narcotics between Arizona ports," according to the release.

Some of the illegal immigrants who are apprehended by Border Patrol get sentenced at “Streamline” hearings in federal court in Tucson. These hearings occur daily, with a maximum of 70 defendants prosecuted each day, but the number of defendants does not always reach 70 per day, said John Lopez, a spokesman with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Bill Odle, who owns property along the U.S. border with Mexico near the San Pedro River west of Douglas, said the border is not secure and significant numbers of people are still crossing illegally, despite the fence, with some transporting marijuana and meth. Others go to the U.S. to look for jobs.

It is clear that the people arriving at the migrant center in Agua Prieta are aware of the immigration reform that Congress is currently considering. But Stump is not sure if they are trying to cross the border now simply to get into the United States before the law changes.

"They ask 'Can I get my visa yet?' or 'Is there amnesty yet?'" said Stump. "People ask a lot about it. Word has gotten around, but they don't know what to make of it."

Jonathan Shacat is a freelance writer for Modern Times Magazine.
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