Voices from the border: Illegal crossings and deportations
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Voices from the border: Illegal crossings and deportations

MATAMOROS, Mexico — Every month, busloads of deported undocumented immigrants arrive at the southern border and are returned to Mexico after serving prison time in the United States. Some have lived in America for only a few years. Others spent most of their lives north of the Rio Grande and left behind spouses and U.S. citizen children.

While some still have ties to their families in Mexico, others confess they don’t have anything but the clothes on their backs and the few belongings they can fit in to a plastic bag. Their next moves are unknown.

At the same time, an unknown number of Mexicans and Central Americans are making final preparations before they embark on a different adventure– the risky trek north that begins by illegally crossing the Rio Grande.

Thousands will make it across the river and end up living and working in the United States. Others will be caught by law enforcement and returned immediately or jailed. Some won’t be heard from again as they fall victim to the river's unpredictable currents or the unforgiving Texas terrain that lies ahead.

In November 2015, The Texas Tribune went to Matamoros and Reynosa, Mexico, and interviewed several deported immigrants convicted of crimes ranging from document fraud to drug possession. The Tribune also heard from Mexican and Central Americans that were waiting for days in shelters before taking a chance crossing the Rio Grande. 

Here are their stories:

Gerardo Vera was interviewed in Matamoros, Mexico, when he was deported to his home country after serving time in U.S. prison for document fraud. Vera said he used another person's Social Security number to work at a New York restaurant. After he was convicted, he paid an attorney $5,000 to help him fight a formal deportation order so he could instead be removed from the county "voluntarily." He lost that battle, and would face several years in prison if caught trying to again illegally enter the United States.

Giovanni Martinez Perez, 30, was interviewed outside the local office of the National Migration Institute in Matamoros, Mexico, where dozens of deported immigrants, convicted of various crimes, were processed for return to their home country. Martinez Perez spoke of his life as a drug dealer, his 10-year prison sentence and his vow to stay out of trouble.

El Salvador native Milton Lopez Chupin, 23, was interviewed at the San Juan Diego migrant shelter in Matamoros, Mexico. He was resting from his long and arduous journey from his country to the border and, he hoped, a better life in the United States. It would be Lopez Chupin's third attempt to reach the United States. He was stopped on the first attempt by the U.S. Border Patrol. On the second try, Mexican migration authorities stopped him before he made it to the border.

Juan Vargas, 36, was interviewed outside the local office of the National Migration Institute in Matamoros, Mexico. He was one of several Mexicans deported back to Mexico after serving prison time in the United States. Originally from Guanajuato, Vargas crossed illegally into California in 1998 and lived and worked in Pennsylvania until he was convicted of his third DUI charge. 

Agustin Guzman, 34, was interviewed at the Senda de Vida (Path of Life) migrant shelter in Reynosa, Mexico, the day before he planned to illegally cross the Rio Grande into Starr County, Texas. Guzman, who's from the state of Tabasco, spoke of his desire to provide a better life for his teenage daughter, his hope of finding work as a cook in Houston and his conviction that Mexico is the "most corrupt country in the world."

This story is part of The Texas Tribune’s yearlong Bordering on Insecurity project.

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Martin do Nascimento/Texas Tribune

Milton Otoniel Lopez Chupin, from Santa Tecla Libertad, El Salvador, in the courtyard at the Casa del Migrante migrant shelter in Matamoros, Mexico, on Nov. 3, 2015.