ME DUELE: Insights from Migrants and Deportees
Julie Norman

A view of the Santa Fe bridge that connects Ciudad Juarez, Mexico to El Paso, Texas. Over 300 deportees are sent back across this bridge daily from the US. Photo: Julie Norman

They put me in handcuffs. I’m not a criminal. Me duele. Me duele.” (It hurts me, It hurts me).

These words, spoken by a 24 year-old man deported from the US, express the disbelief and pain felt by many deportees after being torn from their families, jobs, and lives, treated like criminals and sent back to Mexico. Dropped off on the Santa Fe bridge in El Paso, Texas, these deportees walk across the border to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico to be “welcomed” by coyotes (smugglers), prostitutes, taxi drivers, and check cashers.

Since February, I have been living and volunteering at Casa del Migrante in Ciudad Juarez. A city shaped by migrants, 60% of the population is from elsewhere in Mexico. Migrants come to Juarez for jobs in maquiladoras (large factories often owned and operated by US companies) which proliferated on the border under NAFTA, or with the hope of crossing to “the other side.” In addition to the more than 60,000 migrants who come to Juarez each year, the city receives an average of 300 deportees from the US every day.

Casa del Migrante provides shelter and care to deportees from the US and migrants arriving from Central America and Southern Mexico. A Human Rights Center in the house documents abuses and defends those migrants who wish to pursue their cases in court. Here I have met people who are fleeing violence in El Salvador, who have tried countless times to cross the border, or who have lost years of their lives in jail for the “crime” of entering the US without papers. The most unifying factor among everyone I’ve met is their incredible hope that it is possible to achieve a better standard of living, even if it means crossing all types of borders. Despite the increased migra (border patrol) and deportations as well as the dangers of losing life or limb on the “train of death” that carries people from the south of Mexico to the north, they still believe there is a chance of reaching their destination to reunite with family or to earn the money they need to support their families and one day return home. They are motivated by love for their families and forced to leave their homes for economic reasons. Labeled illegals, they are treated as criminals and abused both in Mexico and the US. But to migrate is not a crime - it is a human right. Their stories show some of the convoluted sides of the immigration debate.

Why don’t you go north?
Sadie arrived from Honduras three months pregnant, thin, dusty, and excitedly asking about life in the US - the life she hopes to live for a few years in order to support the two children she left in her homeland. Although she thought of migrating for many years, it wasn’t until she found herself begging on the street that she decided to leave. “I was asking for money for food to feed myself and my children, and a man said to me, ‘Why don’t you go north?’”

If you had a choice between begging on the street and crossing a border (albeit “illegally”) into a land where it seems everything is possible, what would you do?


Migrant workers rest on a bench outside Casa del Migrante in Ciudad Juarez. Whether they are heading back to reunite with family in the south of Mexico, looking for work in the factories that line the US-Mexico border, or hoping to find work “north”, migrant workers define this Mexican city located just a short walk from El Paso, Texas. Photo: Julie Norman

I left my life
In the morning, Marcelo went to an immigration interview. He is married to a US citizen and has 2 children who are also citizens. Marcelo crossed into the US illegally 15 years ago but has been in the process of obtaining legal status. He paid a $2100 fine for entering illegally, filled out mountains of paperwork and was starting the interview process. However, at his immigration appointment, Marcelo was informed he was being deported for entering the country illegally. Since he had paid the fine, he called his lawyer who didn’t answer. His lawyer called the detention center the following day to be falsely informed that “Jesus” had already been deported. Later that day, Marcello was deported.

The law doesn’t permit Marcelo to legally be where he needs to be. “I have to go back. My wife, my children are there. I left my life.”

I don’t speak Spanish
Carolina had lived in the US since she was five years old.  She and her husband went to an airshow one day. While standing outside watching planes they were approached by the police, asked for papers, and deported. Carolina was sent to Juarez, a city she had never seen, in a country she couldn’t remember, where everyone spoke a language she could barely understand. Her situation is not unique - many children were brought to the US by their parents and can’t imagine another country as home. There is very little chance for them to obtain legal status although they consider the US their country. When they are deported, they are lost. Carolina told me that they are deporting hundreds of Mexicans every week from Nevada. “They are cleaning out the state.”

From deportees leaving their families, houses, and jobs in the US, to migrants trying to cross for the first time, to individuals denied visas after years of applying, their stories are unfinished. Their lives have been interrupted, their families split up - but they are still hoping, still searching for a way. They believe that the US can and will change, that someday they will be able to live without fear and be reunited with their families. We must join them in their quest, and, just as they do, use every means available to us within the US to fight for their cause.

Me duele, as well…until our country can live up to its proclamations of liberty and freedom, until our country stops endorsing torture and abuse and starts defending human rights, until the “American Dream” is not reserved only for a select few. Me duele until we acknowledge that our nation is a nation of immigrants and migrants - that all of us (except Native Americans) came for the very same reasons that migrants now cross the border.

Me duele until we proclaim and uphold that no human is illegal, that migration is not a crime and that all people deserve to be treated with respect. If the laws we create and the artificial borders and walls that we build do not permit people to live with dignity, then people will always find a way to transcend them.

Julie is a former member of the PNL editorial committee who volunteers at Casa del Migrante in Ciudad Juarez.