Mexico is beginning to seriously consider the possibility that millions of its migrants may be deported, and the image is not encouraging.
Under the proposals put forward by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, Mexico could receive back millions of people without jobs available for them; the country could lose a few billions of dollars from remittances sent home every year; and some of the unemployed deportees could swell the ranks of drug cartels, which would generate more violence.
Guerrero Governor Hector Astudillo pondered that scenario last weekend. At least one million people from Guerrero live in the United States, many of them without the required documentation. Guerrero is already under siege from violence due to drug trafficking and poverty.
“Of course, Guerrero is not in a position to receive the million or more than a million migrants that are” in the United States, Astudillo acknowledged. “I think on the contrary, they have been important in sustaining Guerrero’s economy.”
Immigrants sent Mexico nearly $25 billion dollars in remittances in 2015, and experts say most of them went to meet the basic needs of the poorest of Mexicans. Trump has hinted that he would somehow seize the funds of those immigrants who are not deported to pay for a border wall he wants to build.
Mexico can not create 800,000 new jobs for the young people who join the labor force each year, much less those of returning migrants, said Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) President Alejandra Barrales.
The federal government announced an emergency program this week to encourage companies to hire returning migrants, but Armando Osorio, a teacher in Mexico City, doubts that this is sufficient given the government’s usual inability to create jobs.
“These people do not have the moral authority to say that now the compatriots welcome them with open arms,” he said. “They are responsible for the starvation of millions of Mexicans.”
Even if apparently Trump seems to move away from the idea of a massive deportation, the possibility remains scary for the Mexican people.
Trump said Sunday in an interview on “60 Minutes” that “what we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people — probably two million, it could be even three million — we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate.”
The violent Central American gangs, known as “maras,” emerged in the 1980s when migrants fleeing the civil war in El Salvador were deported by the United States after committing gang crimes in Los Angeles. The expelled took their modus operandi with them and formed new gangs.
In 2012, the U.S. government estimated that approximately 1.9 million immigrants were criminals and could be subject to deportation. The Migration Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington, estimated that about 820,000 of them are undocumented.
Mike Vigil, former head of international operations at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said at least some of the deportees may become involved in the drug trade, using connections that have already established that country to increase the amount of heroin and other drugs they cross the border with. He indicated that even deporting only those who committed serious crimes would be counterproductive and provoke more violence in Mexico and Central America.
“What’s going to happen is that these guys are going to go back to Mexico and they’re not going to have a job, so they’ll swell the ranks of the cartels,” said Vigil, author of “Metal Coffins: The Blood Alliance Cartel.”
“That would lead to more violence and kidnappings in Mexico and in those areas [of Central America], which would trigger a tsunami of undocumented immigrants to the United States, possibly many more than would be deported,” Vigil said.
There are cases of deported migrants who assume leadership roles in the cartels of the region. Such is the case of Martín Estrada Luna, who left high school in Washington state with a history of minor crimes, such as robbery. Two years after he was sent back to Mexico in 2009, he had become a drug lord known as “El Kiko,” leader of an arm of the Los Zetas cartel and who planned the massacre of more than 250 people.
While millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States may face deportation, the process of locating and deporting them may not happen immediately.
For immigrants without a criminal record, waiting for a judge to issue the final deportation order could take years. There are currently about 521,000 pending cases in federal immigration courts, according to public data obtained by University of Syracuse’s Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse.
Even in Mexico, many believe that Trump will have to moderate its plans.
“The political reality will show that many of the initiatives against the Mexican people are simply unrealizable, whether it be the deportation of all undocumented immigrants or the construction of the wall,” the Archdiocese of Mexico City wrote in an editorial.