Wednesday July 06, 2022


February 11, 2020

What happens to people after they are deported from the United States? And if they no longer have family in their countries of origin, how do they make their way in an unfamiliar place?

In 2014, Christina Zaldivar found herself pondering these questions with some fellow activists after she had accompanied one of them to an immigration check-in in Centennial, Colorado. That friend had been living without legal status in the US for more than 30 years and had no family left in Mexico.

“We sat in [a coffee shop] afterward for about an hour or two talking about this,” recalls Zaldivar, who is a member of #Not1More, an informal, immigrant-led campaign sponsored by American Friends Service Committee that advocates for and supports those caught up in deportation proceedings.

“And we’re asking, ‘What are people supposed to do, how do they find help? If you’ve not been there for 30-plus years, and they just drop you at the border, where could you go to find resources?’”

That 2014 conversation led to the creation in October 2019 of a resource guide called Crossing South, which provides those returning to four countries – Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala – with information they’ll find useful along the way.

“We both had been afraid of the ‘unknown expectations’ of being tossed back South with no knowledge of what resources would be available to the already mentally, emotionally, and financially broke victims of our broken immigration system,” Zaldivar says.

Their conversation turned out to be prescient.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement had allowed the fellow activist she’d accompanied to the check-in to remain in the US until his daughter graduated from college. Then a few weeks after the coffee shop conversation, “sure as shit, they took him,” she says. He was then sent back to Mexico.

And then in November 2019, Zaldivar’s husband, Jorge Rafael Zaldivar Mendieta, was detained and in January, he, too, was deported to Mexico. Although he was eligible for permanent legal status because of their marriage, (she is a US citizen), he had been checking in with ICE after a simple paperwork error had stymied his green card application.

After living in the US for more than two decades, Zaldivar Mendieta had joined the multitudes of people the government deports each year – either after they’ve been held in detention in cities across the country or apprehended at the border.

Some 262,591 people were removed from the US to countries around the world during fiscal year 2019, an increase of 4 percent from the previous year, according to figures from ICE.

More than 90 percent of those deportees were from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. And while the number of Mexicans deported declined nearly 10 percent between 2018 and 2019, the number of those returned to the three Central American countries rose during that same time – by as much as 44 percent to Honduras, for example–a reflection of the surge of asylum-seekers from those countries in recent years.

Most people deported to Mexico often are flown to US border cities and are either walked or bused across the border. Those from Central America are flown directly to their home countries.

Excerpted from: ‘What Happens When a Person Is Deported?’