From the American dream to Mexican reality

Outstanding International Report winner of the New America Media Awards 2011/2012 [Series, first of three]

A bus transports migrants from Tijuana to Mexicali.
A bus transports migrants from Tijuana to Mexicali.
Foto: Ricardo Ibarra

TIJUANA.– He doubts for a moment. Suddenly, Angel holds a conviction: his life has no future in Mexico.

It’s not so much because of the son that’s waiting for him crossing the border, over in Pittsburg, California. Or his wife, who also awaits his arrival. The bus ride through an arid road from Tijuana to Mexicali inspires him reflections beyond the desert he sees through the window, when he says haltingly, “Well, there is no future here, man, that’s the truth. It is very difficult… life here in Mexico. It’s very ugly. I do not like it here. So I’m going over there”.

That “over there” is the north for thousands of Mexicans, Central Americans, Asians, Hindues, dissatisfied european tourists. It is the nation of the United States. The land of dreams. The country with international debt over 14 trillion. But still, the great golden myth in this archaic American continent.

Angel has seen it all. Maddened with alcohol and drugs in Tijuana. United States made him better, he says. “There are many rules that one must respect (in US) and that makes you a better person. But not here, man (in Mexico). Here you could live however you want. Over there you have to work to eat, you have to pay rent, you have to do many things and that makes you better person, and therefore be more useful, you know what I mean?

“Here, the easiest thing to do is go have drugs and drink and all that, and one gets lost, that’s what happens. There are even white guys lost there [in Tijuana]. For me, that’s not life, so I don´t like that. I used to be like that, but I got better in the States. Here in Mexico you can’t do a thing with your life. Over there in the States, I have my job, my car, my money.”

A “coyote” paid to Angel that bus transport where he is travelling toward Mexicali. The ‘coyote’ will get him false papers, will get him to cross the border line. Angel will say hello to the immigration police. Maybe sing the American national anthem to prove his false citizenship and his loyalty to the red, white and blue. This is the third time Angel does this, after 10 years of living among strangers with a hidden identity, after paying taxes to the IRS, working as a butcher in a recognized signature stores in California. Having children.

When Angel arrives back home, in Pitsburg, he will pay $4.000 to the “coyote” who provided him with the false paperwork.”It’s people you can trust,” he says, “I already know him.”

On his way back to the States, Angel does not come alone. He is accompanied by his brother and cousin, both with similar stories, perhaps less fortunate and less emotional bonds.

Jose Luis, Angel’s brother, knows what they’re about to deal with. This is his eleventh attempt to escape from Mexico. On three occasions managed to evade the desert and their United States guardians. He worked for three years in Pittsburgh with his brother, doing everything. Now, he’s coming for more. “It’s nice over there,” he admits.

His story differs from that of his brother, by the various occasions that he was hit by “la migra”. This time won’t be easy, he knows that, but is willing to take the risk. He has his convictions: “It’s a change for me, something good. In Ensenada (Baja California) there is no work and money is never enough. Over there you put your life in everything to make what is yours. Over here is tough, almost impossible to do anything”.

When the bus arrives in Mexicali, the two brothers and cousin are drained in the corridors of the small trucking station. Out of sight. Their fate is cast on the other side.

Here and there

Every day there is someone trying to conquer the American desert mountains to dig into a McDonald’s in California or Texas, Arizona or New Mexico. And every day there are people being deported.

In the Mexicali-Calexico border, the Albergue del Desierto organization has a module for migrants who are returned through this door. They receive them, rehydrate them, provide instant soups, coffee, and let’s go, to keep trying to cross the border.

“This is like a routine for those who want get over there,” said Jesus Avila, a man almost 40 years, from Minatitlan, Veracruz, in the south east of Mexico.

The Department of Homeland Security has just deported Jesus and now he has just finished the instantly made noodle soup and coffee provided by the mexican hostel Albergue del Desierto in the borderline area.

That last night of early June, he and more than 20 Mexicans entered the United States through a mountain desert area known as La Rumorosa in Baja California. They walked a couple of nights, being careful of not being spotted by the Border Patrol, until “they caught us, nothing more,” says Avila.

From time to time, this man borned in a coastal town in southeastern Mexico, is launching an explanation of why “sometimes you have to take risks”. A profound statement said in such a light way that seems like a story he has been repeating countless times: “Money is good over there. It’s fucked up here in Mexico. That’s why we go over there. What I have, I’ve made it in the United States. Here in Mexico I can’t do anything. What I have, thank God, I’ve done it over there. That’s why we take the risk.”

He continues: “Here in Mexico, the Mexican authorities… the political race are the ones eating the money.” And repeats again, reaffirming his position: “That’s why we go over there.”

More than half of Mexicans live in poverty, according to the specialist Julio Boltvinik, from el Colegio de México. Jesus Avila recognize himself in that vast majority of 80 million Mexicans, when he says: “I’m not saying there is no well-paying jobs [in Mexico], there are well-paying jobs, what happens is that they are the minority and those who are the majority, nothing. You earn 150 pesos 200 pesos a day, that does not helps you at all. It’s worthless. Prices have gone up, things have gone rather expensive. What do you do? Well, let’s better go over there, to United States to make some money.”

Border in numbers

This spirit is not isolated. Neither belongs only to those 25 men recently deported by the Border Patrol, with dusty faces that look dry and consumed in the borderline hostel.

Only in 2010, Homeland Security deported 387.000 immigrants. Were from Mexico (73%), Guatemala (8%), Honduras (6%) and El Salvador (5%).

Also detained 517.000 foreigners, of whom 83% were native Mexicans.

In total, in 2010, Homeland Security deported to their original countries 476.000 people.

With these numbers, the administration of President Barack Obama has become the federal organization that has deported more immigrants in the history of the United States.