Preparing for Return: Knowing Your Rights on Both Sides of the Border

Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz, Melissa Hernández, Ewa Bednarczyk

Loyola University Chicago

In the summer and fall of 2017, we spent time in Zapotlanejo, Jalisco and Mexico City to learn more about how Mexican citizens who are deported from the United States understand and navigate resettlement in Mexico. In 2015, the U.S. deported some 330,00 people, including 242,000 Mexican citizens. While many Mexican deportees stay near the US-Mexico border region to remain close to children and other US-based family members, thousands of others return to their hometowns in Mexico’s interior to rebuild their lives there. Every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, planes carrying these deportees take off from Mexico’s northern border region and, hours later, land at the Mexico City airport.

 Mexican youth express their feelings about migration in this mural at a Zapotlanej skate part. Photo Credit: Melissa Hernández

Mexican youth express their feelings about migration in this mural at a Zapotlanej skate part. Photo Credit: Melissa Hernández

There, two community organizations wait in the terminal to receive them. One, Deportados Unidos en la Lucha (Deportees United in Struggle) is composed of US deportees; the other, Yaotlyaocihuatl Ameyal (a Nahuatl phrase roughly meaning Well of Warriors), is composed of various professionals including lawyers, social workers, and psychologists. Both groups work to provide socioemotional support and help newly arriving deportees orient themselves, locate family members, and find living and working arrangements. They also help new arrivals apply for Mexican identity documents that they will need to apply for jobs, open accounts, and access services in Mexico.

Applying for identity documents in Mexico can be challenging for people who have lived in the United States for many years or even decades, and who no longer possess valid Mexican documents such as passports, driver licenses, or voter ID cards. Many deportees also lack fluency in Spanish and familiarity with Mexican bureaucracies, and many do not have a local address, which is required information on application forms. Thus, much of the initial intake work of Deportees United and Ameyal involves helping deportees get registered with the Mexican government and accrue the documentation they will need to attain resources such as jobs, housing, health care, and government assistance.

US-born children who accompany deported parents to Mexico face even more specific bureaucratic and social barriers to integration into Mexican society. For example, US-citizen children with Mexican citizen parents are eligible for dual citizenship, but they must have long-form U.S. birth certificates that have been “apostilladas,” or have an apostille affixed within the past year. However, apostilles are only affixed by specified authorities in the U.S. state where the birth certificate was issued—usually in the Secretary of State’s office. The requirement of an apostille poses a significant barrier for parents who attempt to apply for Mexican citizenship for their U.S.-born children. These children may be without Mexican identify documents for long periods of time, during which they may be unable to enroll in school and be ineligible for social services such as health insurance (Medina and Menjivar 2015), compounding the already overwhelming stresses of deportation on children. Without Mexican citizenship, US-born citizen children in Mexico are left “without an identity,” in the words of one parent, or “illegal in Mexico,” in the words of another.

Organizers in Mexico not only help deportees navigate Mexican bureaucracies, but they also work to pressure the Mexican government to broaden access to services for deportees and their children, including a campaign to eliminate the requirement for an apostille on US birth certificates. Meanwhile, organizers in the United States help migrants develop strategies to defend against, but also prepare for the possibility of, deportation. And just as deportation is a cross-border phenomenon, so too is advocacy. To help support and bridge organizing efforts on both sides of the border, we traveled from Chicago to Jalisco, Mexico in May of 2017, and to Mexico City in October and November of 2017 to work with community organizers and gather information about challenges to return for Mexican citizens. We also work with advocates in the Chicago area who organize around immigrant rights.

 Residents of Zapotlanejo, Jalisco participate in the Derecho a la Identidad campaign. Photo Credit: Ewa Bednarczyk

Residents of Zapotlanejo, Jalisco participate in the Derecho a la Identidad campaign. Photo Credit: Ewa Bednarczyk

We gathered information to expand upon Know-Your-Rights education in the United States to include information about return. Know-Your-Rights workshops for immigrant communities typically help people develop strategies to avoid apprehension by immigration authorities and prepare them for the possibility of detention and deportation. By extending Know-Your-Rights materials to include information about return for Mexican citizens, we hoped to provide information about preparations people could make to facilitate return, such as getting apostilles for US birth certificates, as well as about resources available to returnees upon arrival in Mexico.

The resulting materials can be found here. These are working documents, meant to be adjusted, improved, and edited as needed; they belong to no one, or to everyone. And while we hope that these materials provide information that people will find useful, we also want to point out their shortcomings. First, they are very general and not well suited to address specific situations or questions about return; they do not constitute legal advice and should not be substituted for careful counsel with a qualified attorney or legal representative. They will also need to be updated as deportation and reintegration practices change.

Second, they risk painting an overly optimistic portrait of Mexican government programs, whose services can be notoriously difficult for returnees to access. We provide information about these programs in the hopes that Mexican citizens and organizers can use it to demand services, even as we know that many will ultimately be frustrated.

Third, and perhaps most significantly, this work feels defeatist insofar as it is focused on facilitating return instead of fighting deportation. We hope these materials can be used to complement, support, and extend anti-deportation activism, as well as advocacy with and on behalf of deportees in countries of return.


About the authors:

Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Latin American and Latinx Studies Program at Loyola University Chicago. Her most recent book, Becoming Legal: Immigration Law and Mixed Status Families, follows families as they navigate the US immigration system in an attempt to stay together lawfully.

Melissa Hernández is an undergraduate Environmental Sciences major and Social Justice Fellow at Loyola University Chicago.

Ewa Bednarczyk is a graduate student in the School of Social Work at Loyola University Chicago specializing in Mental Health and Migration Studies. She is interested in how experiences of migration, resettlement, and deportation can impact mental wellbeing and works with individuals experiencing trauma, PTSD, and anxiety.

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