Driving through Arizona’s Sonora Desert to Nogales, Mexico, I anticipated a town of hopeful migrants strategizing their next move—seeking work, planning a crossing attempt, obtaining clothing and provisions, networking with one another to optimize their chances of success. In short, a chaotic mix of dashed hopes and determination.
TakePart contributor David Page and I had come to document what confronts the deported—those who had tried to enter the U.S. illegally and been returned to Mexico.
A few hours later, crossing the border on foot, we instead found a town of deserted streets and uncollected garbage and ruptured by an inescapable, omnipresent blood-red barrier dividing the town, heedless of playgrounds, parking lots, or church yards. The border fence, with its 30-foot-tall steel bars visible from virtually every corner in town, seemed to reduce all inhabitants of Nogales, residents and visitors alike, to prisoners.
It is into this vacuum of existence that new deportees are unceremoniously deposited, 24-7, by U.S. and Mexican border authorities. Clutching an orange and a bottle of water, courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, along with a Proof of Repatriation letter from the Mexican authorities, deportees make their way, stunned, from the Mexican government’s processing office to a sun-scorched square of earth bounded on all sides by a chain-link fence. They are told they may pass the day here but must look elsewhere for their next meal and a safe place to sleep.
Stripped of any means to help themselves and divested of their dreams for a better life, deportees spent their days in a holding pattern of anguished waiting: for the next meal, a shelter, a bed, a phone call, word from family or friends, a job—anything that might provide a glimpse of the next step. Most often, there is nothing. Ultimately, for many, the waiting produces a profound despondence as they find themselves stuck between the life they tried to escape and their waning hopes for something better.