Crime and Banishment

“Mexico wants the U.S. government to pass an immigration reform that would set on the path to legality the six million or so undocumented Mexicans now living in the United States. But the cost might be too great for some Mexican communities along that very border Americans are trying so hard to make secure — for themselves.”

By Carlos Puig, International Herald Tribune, June 26, 2013

The prospects for the immigration bill now under discussion in the U.S. Congress have a lot to do with whether it is perceived to enhance U.S. border security with Mexico. Many Republicans have been reluctant to legalize the status of foreigners illegally present in the United States without more measures to keep other potential illegal immigrants out. On Tuesday the Senate approved a plan to spend $40 billion over the next decade on building more fencing along the border, installing infrared sensors, increasing by almost 20,000 the number of patrol agents and sending surveillance drones flying overhead.

But this latest plan will only put more stress on Mexican border towns that already bear the brunt of unexpected and, often, unwanted waves of returnees from the United States.

Since 2008, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) has increased deportations of illegal aliens under a policy to maximize “the removal of those who pose the greatest threat to public safety or national security.” The agency says it has sent back close to 410,000 individuals from the United States in the 2012 fiscal year, almost 55 percent of them — 225,390 people — convicted criminal aliens. That’s almost double the number of criminals deported in 2008 — and, the agency says, “the largest number of criminal aliens removed in agency history.”

This may reassure the Republicans in Washington, but it worries local authorities in Mexico.

Indeed, the policy’s success translates into thousands of convicted murderers, sex offenders and drug dealers being sent back to their countries of origin, which means largely to Mexico. According to the latest figures from the U.S. government, about 450,000 Mexicans who committed crimes in the United States were returned home between 2008 and 2011. This is partly because in 2007 I.C.E. began implementing a program called Rapid REPAT, offering undocumented aliens convicted of criminal offenses early release in exchange for immediate repatriation.

Three years ago, when Ciudad Juárez was the most violent city in Mexico, José Reyes Ferriz, its mayor at the time, asked the U.S. government to stop deporting ex-convicts through El Paso, the closest U.S. city across the border. I.C.E. complied for a while, which, according to Ferriz, helped curb the local murder count: There were 1,956 homicides in 2011, down from 2,980 in 2010.

But then the problems moved elsewhere, just down the border.  Last week, Alberto Capella, the chief of police in Tijuana described to me incoming deportees as “the major problem affecting the city.” He gave some numbers: In the first five months of this year, 5,300 ex-convicts were repatriated through the Tijuana-San Diego border. According to the attorney general of Baja California State — of which Tijuana is the largest city — one in four homicides during the last year involved ex-convicts deported from the United States, according to Cappella.

The problem with the I.C.E.’s policy also goes beyond the deportation of criminals. According to the agency itself, Tijuana, a city of about 1.5 million people, has received around 150,000 deportees in the last four years. Many of these people no longer have a home in Mexico, and even if they do, they rarely have the money to go back there. Most of them stay in Tijuana or other cities nearby looking for a way to go back to the United States, with no jobs prospects or a place to stay.

Mexico wants the U.S. government to pass an immigration reform that would set on the path to legality the six million or so undocumented Mexicans now living in the United States. But the cost might be too great for some Mexican communities along that very border Americans are trying so hard to make secure — for themselves.

Read the original article.

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