Mexican politicans are eagerly embracing returning migrants, as a symbol of President Donald Trump’s hostility to their country and people. Invisible before, deportees are now a ‘noble cause.’
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s president dashed to the airport to greet a planeload of deportees. The education minister rushed to the Texas border to meet Mexicans being kicked out of the United States. Mexico City’s labor secretary is urging companies to hire migrants who abruptly find themselves sent back home.
“Unlike what’s happening in the United States, this is your home,” the labor secretary, Amalia García, told deportees in the audience at a recent event for the city’s jobs programs.
For years, as the Obama administration sent back thousands of Mexicans each week — more than 2 million altogether — Mexico’s establishment barely reacted. All but invisible, the deportees were left to cope on their own with divided families, uncertain job prospects and the poverty that had pushed so many north in the first place.
Now, Mexican politicians are eagerly embracing them, portraying deportees as the embodiment of President Donald Trump’s hostility toward their country and their people — even though deportations of Mexican citizens actually fell in the opening months of his term.
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“We have something to thank President Trump for, which is this sudden awakening to this reality that we were kind of ignoring,” said Cecilia Soto, a legislator who met recently with migrants in Chicago and Los Angeles.
“We gave lip service to the migrants” in the past, she added, and now “you have a sector of society that is really moved by this reality and trying to do things.”
According to statistics from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the number of Mexican citizens deported from the United States in the first three months of 2017 dropped by nearly 20 percent from a year earlier.
The Mexican government’s statistics also show a slowdown in Mexican citizens being kicked out of the United States during January and February, with fewer deportations in those months than during any month last year. (March figures were not yet available.)
The number of deportations often fluctuates considerably from month to month, for a variety of reasons, and an official with the U.S. immigration enforcement agency cautioned against drawing any firm conclusions from the recent decline.
But whatever the pace of deportations under Trump turns out to be, he has already provoked a nationalist surge in Mexico, uniting the country across political and economic divides in outrage at his stance on immigration, trade and border security.
Carlos Bravo, a historian at CIDE, a Mexico City university, said Mexican politicians were clearly trying to respond to — and perhaps gain from — that popular anger. Rallying to the side of Mexicans kicked out of the United States offers them an easy way to score points at home, with few political risks.
The cause of deportees “has very few costs,” he said. “It’s a noble cause” in the eyes of most Mexicans.
Even businesses, which have long shied away from hiring deportees out of fear they were criminals or would be more assertive about their labor rights, are changing their attitudes. García, the Mexico City labor secretary, said Trump’s aggressive language about Mexicans “has paradoxically been generating a lot of solidarity to incorporate migrants.”
Along with the surge in attention has come some tangible assistance, like additional money to help undocumented immigrants in the United States with legal issues.
Mexico City and several states are welcoming deportees by easing their way into social programs like public health insurance or small loans to start businesses. The western state of Jalisco is adding services to cut through bureaucracy, certify skills and encourage companies to hire migrants.
And lawmakers in Congress pushed through a measure to simplify school enrollment for U.S.-born children.
When signing the legislation last month, Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, said of the migrants, “As a society and as a country, we have the ethical and moral duty to receive them with open arms, to treat them with affection, respect and dignity.”
Mexico is still bracing for an increase in deportations from the United States. The Trump administration has tightened immigration enforcement, vastly expanding the number of migrants considered priorities for deportation and promising to hire 10,000 immigration and customs agents.
High-profile arrests, including those of parents handcuffed and driven away in front of their children, have provoked terror in immigrant communities, and the Mexican news media has closely followed the cases.
After Guadalupe García de Rayos was summarily deported from Phoenix in February, she became a minor celebrity in her home state of Guanajuato, where the governor personally handed her new Mexican identity documents.
Many deported migrants fall into a vacuum when they return, with no connections, no work history, no home, no papers. They often face a social stigma. A federal government program, Somos Mexicanos, or We Are Mexicans, offers to link deportees with public services and job banks, but advocates say its scope is limited.
“Mexican society has to open itself up to the fact that they are from the same country,” said Claudia Masferrer, a migration expert at the Colegio de México. “Mexico has no integration policy.”
René Álvarez, who returned to Mexico last year after two decades in the United States, has started over with a truck, a workshop and new tools he bought with a loan of about $2,600 from the Mexico City government.
“If we could do it there, we can do it here,” Álvarez said at the jobs event in Mexico City, surrounded by the mayor and other dignitaries.
Álvarez, 46, had built a construction business, bought a house and raised four daughters in Georgia. Since he was detained and deported — accused of drunken driving — he has lost it all. “They destroyed me,” he said.
His rural hometown has been taken over by drug gangs, but he and his wife, along with their three youngest daughters, who are U.S.- born, are living with his wife’s parents on the southern outskirts of Mexico City.
“The government has behaved well to migrants,” he said. “We contribute to the economy of both countries. We aren’t bad people like Donald Trump says.”