Day and night, hundreds of Mexican migrants stream into this border city after being deported from the US amid record deportations taking place under the Obama administration.
At one migrant shelter in Nogales, workers encourage deportees to return home rather than attempt to cross into the US illegally again, through the treacherous desert that spans both sides of the border.
“There’s a federal program that will pay for your bus ticket so you can get back home,” Valente Camacho Terraza tells a group of migrants arriving at the center, which functions both as a shelter and transportation company.
But "home" for many of them is not the interior town from which they left, but cities in the US where they have worked for a decade or two, or sometimes more. Cuauhtémoc Bravo Guerrero, a migrant at the center who was recently deported from California, says he spent 30 years in the US. He has been at the shelter for days, unsure of his next move. “I want to go back to California,” he says.
Most of the migrants get a couple days of rest and nourishment before deciding whether to return to their states of origin or head back toward the international line. Without money or family ties in Nogales, many accept the Mexican government’s offer, Mr. Camacho says.
But in the past year, he has noticed that a lot of migrants tend to stay longer – some up to a month. He attributes that to the changing make-up of the migrant population.
About five years ago, the shelter was crowded with migrants – mostly men – who kept getting caught after crossing the border repeatedly. That has changed over time to include more women and children, who are housed in another shelter for minors. The mix now includes fewer people heading north and more migrants who are being deported after spending a decade or two north of the border, Camacho says. They linger at the shelter trying to reach family members in the US and figuring out where they might go next.
“Things get complicated for them,” Camacho says.
In an outdoor waiting area, several men wait in silence. Most have just been deported after being picked up in Arizona, California, and other states. No one is eager to share names. Two young men say they were deported after spending time behind bars in Arizona. A middle-aged man who lived in the US for 20 years says he was deported after Phoenix police stopped him while driving with a broken side mirror.
A few miles away, at the downtown border crossing, a Border Patrol bus arrives mid-afternoon with another group of deportees: a boy about eight years old, 23 women and 35 men who walk toward Mexico in a single file.
Officials might try to urge them to continue heading south, but for many their roots are now behind them.