Magon: The Deportation Chronicles, Pt. 3

 

Photo: JESUS E. VALENZUELA FELIX/Coachella Unincorporated

The Diary of Joaquín Magón Entry 24: The Deportation Chronicles, Part 3


Raul: Those Who Said Goodbye

In 2010, there were an estimated 387,000 “removals” according to Department of Homeland Security documents. My high school friend Raul was one of them.

He has been living in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, for three years now. He has been trying to adjust to his new life ever since.

The fact that he was born in Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico, doesn’t help much. He may as well have been born in the United States because Mexicali is a different world. Even though its motto is “the homeland begins here,” it is a strange city that most Mexicans wouldn’t even consider Mexico. The neon lights, the smells of taco stands, candy stores, strip clubs, pharmacies, have made it into a city of tourists and passersby going to or coming from the U.S.

Meeting someone born and raised in Mexicali is not as common as meeting someone passing through. The heat of the desert mixes with the traffic to cause a heat even those who have lived there their whole lives can’t stand. I’ve driven through those streets plenty of times to pick up family members that rode the bus from Sinaloa. I love it, but I am aware that it’s a privilege to be able to come and go.

When Raul was deported, it struck him as crazy. He was, after all, a college student with no criminal record. He was stopped and questioned by the police while hanging out with some friends in one of Indio’s deserted areas, a big patch of desert, with dirt and bushes and, well, nothing around them. The officer told them they were trespassing. Then the officer asked if he had papers. He didn’t.

He recalls, “Then he called immigration. Immigration hassled and harassed me verbally for a while…then they told me I was to be deported. They took me to a station where I explained that I was a student in college, and that I had done nothing wrong. They didn’t release me but offered… a voluntary deportation and that as soon as I was on Mexican soil I could arrange to get papers the legal way…I had to “play piano” (get my fingerprints taken) and slept at the station for one night then they drove me to Mexico… oh and they gave me what looked like a small receipt telling me that I had just been deported.”

The promise of being able to fix papers if a person signs a voluntary deportation is a common practice. Detained immigrants are harassed until they see that signing this paper will end everything that it’s the best choice. Of course, it’s not. As Mario Lazcano, the immigration activist in Coachella, pointed out to a couple that was detained — the fact that they refused to sign is what kept them from being deported.

But Raul’s case is more common than not. And now he has to rough it in Mexicali. He has no family there. They all still live in the Eastern Coachella Valley. The family of a mutual friend of ours took him in.

Luckily he had saved some money. Ever since I’ve known Raul, regardless of how the economy was doing, he could always get a job. He even had two or three at a time. He’s had more or less that same luck in Mexicali.

“The first year was terrible as I was just adjusting to all the changes in my life. I had to learn many colloquial phrases and jump over the small language barrier I had. I had to adjust to the hostility, during the first year my house was broken into and robbed naked. Finding a job was difficult without a proper Mexican ID. I guess here in México they don’t like immigrants either, like from El Salvador and other southern countries. So I got whatever jobs I could. By 2011, I was working at a maquila [large factories that produce mostly U.S. products] where, because of my English I got an opportunity for a good job. Last year I got a job as an English instructor in a private school and I can say now I’m fully adjusted… I still think a lot about my family though.”

I have this feeling that humans often feel invincible. That we take risks like we’re immortals, we speed as if we’ll never get caught, and we talk about sickness like it won’t happen to us. It’s the way Raul lived in the U.S. as well. But undocumented immigrants must take extra precautions.

“In the back of my mind I always knew that I could get deported any time, as my father and brother once did,” he says. “So I wasn’t the first in my family to get deported.”

Raul adjusted at age seven to a life in the U.S., and now he has adjusted to life in Mexicali. He works and is on a constant dream to better his situation. Raul is one of those that President Obama said he wouldn’t deport — one of the 45 percent, a college student who could apply for DACA, like Mayte, if he was living in the United States.

But living in the ECV means that a cop can ask you for papers, being undocumented means being hunted like a school of fish with a net, no need to be precise or cautious, you just drag the damned thing and take what you can get. If you get caught there will be no lawyer there to defend you in the event that you cannot pay for one, and to hell with it – get kicked out, deported, have your name put into a database and live as a memory in the streets that saw you grow as the streets that saw your birth.

 

All Those Who Fight and DREAM

There is a huge difference between undocumented youth — the DREAMers — with no recollection of their home country and their parents who do. They fight for their lives in the open. They are taken away like Raul, sometimes they are stuck in a limbo that feels like an inescapable nightmare like Estela, or sometimes their hard work pays off like it did for Mayte.

In the ECV, we know all of these people. We know people who dream and fight even when the fight is not their own, like Lazcano. He is distressed by how common deportation is. We speak of it like an old friend, like a sickness, like the flu without a vaccine.

The road has been hard, and people want a comprehensive immigration process. And that fight in the Coachella Valley has been a slow process of empowering the community with the vote. As Lazcano points out, “[The fight for immigration reform] has allowed the following: there was a an Assemblywoman named Bonnie Garcia (R). We managed to defeat her. Then there was [Congresswoman] Mary Bono Mack (R) who had been in power for 14 years and…now we have a new Congressman [Dr. Raul Ruiz (D)].”

It has led to a community that has, over the years, amassed enough power to remove the politicians that stand in the way of immigration reform and replace them with those who say they will try and help.

Now, I don’t want to talk too much about a metaphorical giant rearing its head or the rise of a new wave of voters. What will happen will happen, and the ECV will, eventually, recover from the wounds inflicted upon it by ICE.

Until then, we’ll continue to talk about people who have been deported, people who will have to adjust their dreams to a new reality. The scars left by these mass deportations will heal; the community will heal itself, mend itself and learn to live, and the people will always remember and tell their stories – as I am sharing the stories of the four brave people who opened up to me and to the entire community.

 

Previously: The Deportation Chronicles, Part 1

Previously: The Deportation Chronicles, Part 2

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“The Diary of Joaquín Magón” is written by Jesús E. Valenzuela Félix, a reporter from Coachella living in Salinas and working for the United Farm Workers Foundation. He contributes regularly to Coachella Unincorporated.

 

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