US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Bouncing across the border: The deportees that return

Father Tom Joyce CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The best evidence that unauthorized entry at the U.S.-Mexico border seems to indicate such crossings have declined drastically. Apprehensions by border patrol have declined from 1.6 million a decade ago to about 360,000 in 2010. Obviously, many still get through, but apprehensions are a good indicator of the volume of traffic. The reasons for the decline are many--sharper enforcement, more deportations, the aftermath of the great recession in the U.S. and a modest improvement in the Mexican economy. Many people feel the passage across the border is not worth the dangers and things are a little better at home. The smugglers persist and many desperate migrants continue to cross, but no longer coming in large groups of 20 t0 30. Now it’s more likely signally or in twos and threes. There is one group that still seems intent on crossing over, even to making deals with the drug smugglers for help--deportees desperate to return to their families in the U.S.

The other day a few of us priests were speculating on the new policies coming from the Department of Homeland Security to ease enforcement and concentrating on deporting criminals. Among those “criminals,” close to half, are the previously deported who had returned despite an exclusion order from a court. While simply crossing the border is not a crime, ignoring a deportation order and returning is. What came up in the discussion was that their plight is a real pastoral problem we know well. These are not criminals, but good people. Many have established settled lives for years, with steady work and children born here. Sometimes they're picked up for minor infractions and the computer kicks up a departure order years old. The disruption to families is painful and there little hope that they’ll not be deported a second time. Some, once they return to Mexico, they begin planning immediately to return. Crossing is more dangerous now--the drug cartels have branched into people smuggling or have compelled them, through intimidation or as a discount on  fee for safe passage, to act as mules carrying contraband.

The legal situation of the deportee is harsh, but not entirely impossible. A deportee ordinarily has to wait years before reapplying for authorized entry--and then he or she goes to the end of the line. If they are honest with the consulate and have documentation, they may get some consideration. But they must have held a steady job in the States, have a wife or other immediate family legally here, and of course a clean record. Whether such generosity would be extended to multiple crossers or those who were used to smuggle contraband is another question. This does point up an issue that might not be covered in a comprehensive immigration reform, but it should be addressed as part of the family reunification.