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Is US deportation of criminals driving up Mexico border violence?

Mexican President Felipe Calderon last week accused the US policy of deporting criminals into northern Mexico of fueling the criminal violence that is ravaging the country.

By Geoffrey RamseyGuest blogger / October 24, 2011

A federal policeman searches a man for drugs and weapons at a checkpoint in the coastal avenue in Acapulco on Oct. 22.

Tomas Bravo/Reuters

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With US deportations at a record high, the Mexican government is increasingly concerned that deportees with criminal records are contributing to border violence.

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Mexican President Felipe Calderon caused somewhat of a media stir with some of his recent comments on US immigration policy. Speaking at the Third International Forum on Migration and Peace last week, the president lambasted the US for its treatment of undocumented immigrants, saying that the US “would not be the power that it is today without migration.” He also claimed that the recent wave of anti-immigrant legislation will likely take a hit on the US economy, predicting that US goods will become “worse in quality and more deficient than in other regions.”

Mr. Calderon reserved his strongest criticism, however, for the US government's approach to deportation. According to him, the practice of busing deportees over the border and releasing them fuels the violence in the north of the country, as some individuals with criminal records turn to a life of crime in the border towns where they are released.

Calderon claimed that between 60,000 and 70,000 migrants are sent to northern border cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez every year. Among these, he said, "there are many who really are criminals, who have committed some crime and it is simply cheaper to leave them on the Mexican side of the border than to prosecute them, as [the US] should, to see whether they are guilty or not." The result, he added, is that they “quickly link up with criminal networks on the border."

Although this is the first time that Calderon has come out so publicly on the matter, the accusation is not new. In fact, local and state officials on northern Mexico have complained for years about the practice of US criminal deportations. Just last year the mayors of four different border cities in Mexico called on US officials to stop deporting individuals with criminal records along the border. At the time, then-Mayor of Ciudad Juarez Jose Reyes alleged that 28,000 of the 80,000 people deported to his city since 2007 had violated US law. Of that number, according to him, 7,000 were convicted rapists and 2,000 were convicted murderers.

The issue is bound to become more prominent if current deportation trends continue. According to figures recently released by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), a record 396,906 individuals were deported from October 2010 through September of this year. Although the administration has claimed that 55 percent of those had felony or misdemeanor convictions, it is unclear how many of those were simply related to immigration violations. Still, as the administration maintains its emphasis on deporting criminals, the fears of local officials are not likely to be assuaged in the near future.

And these official concerns are not unfounded, as the phenomenon of deported criminals becoming involved in borderland criminal networks has been documented in the past. One example is Martin Estrada Luna, the individual who authorities say is responsible for killing at least 250 people in the northern state of Tamaulipas and burying them in a series of mass graves. According to the AP, Estrada became the leader of the local Zetas outfit just 18 months after he was deported.

--- Geoffrey Ramsey is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of his research here.

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