A man deported in 2013 sits in front of his house in Nogales, A man deported in 2013 sits in front of his house in Nogales, Mexico. He lived in the United States for 36 years. Tobin Hansen CC BY-SA

Deportees in Mexico: tales of disruption

Interviews raise questions about human costs of deportation

Ray was born in Mexico and moved to the United States with family members at age 10. He told me in an interview in 2014, “I’m just a regular American like everyone else.”


In middle school, Ray (a pseudonym to protect his identity) learned the Declaration of Independence and memorized all the presidents in order.

His first job was replastering swimming pools in Phoenix, Arizona. Ray had a son, who was accepted to officer candidate school to attempt to earn the title of U.S. Marine.

After 29 years in the United States – attending school, working and raising a family – Ray was deported to Mexico.

As an anthropologist, I set out to understand how people like Ray become socially entwined in U.S. communities. I spent 18 months researching and living with deported adults in northern Mexico. I interviewed 56 deported adults who had arrived in the United States before age 13, years or even decades ago.

In English, marked by East Coast pluck, Southern lilt or Southwest flatness, they told me of the ties that bind them to their U.S. home communities. Their experiences raise important questions about the human costs of deportation that Washington lawmakers must consider as they debate immigration policy – particularly as it affects so-called Dreamers, non-citizens who have lived most of their lives in the United States.

The people I interviewed articulated a deep sense of national belonging in the United States. Alfonso (a pseudonym) was deported in 2013 after living for 43 years in Tucson, Arizona, since the age of two. He told me, “The U.S. is everything for me. It’s everything I feel, everything I’ve ever done. It’s who I am. You grow up up there and that’s your life.”


They also spoke of lives that, before deportation, had been enmeshed in the everyday activities, shared understandings, social networks, ways of communicating and values of their local communities. Divorced from home, deportees often felt incomplete, shut out or shut down.

Paco (a pseudonym) was born in Mexico in 1971, taken to Phoenix, Arizona, with family at six months old, and deported in 2013. He said, “It’s the little things that matter, you know: birthday parties, a quinceñera, graduations. Things happen up there and it’s just once, and you don’t get that time back.”

Deportees also experience wrenching social, psychological and economic stress and alienation after expulsion. They enter unfamiliar worlds when released from U.S. government custody into northern Mexico border cities.

Paco expressed his disorientation in Mexico: “For me it’s like they dropped me off in Africa . . . . In a place I don’t know, where I have nothing. I don’t know nobody [and it’s] not my home. I have no ties to nobody.”

After deportation, life’s more meaningful projects became daunting – turning a living space into a home, determining a vocation, attending school, connecting deeply with others, or imagining a future. Dustin (a pseudonym), a 38-year-old deportee, put it simply: “I’ve had enough with this down here. I just can’t do it. It’s just not like up there.”

To be sure, a mix of family support, academic or job skills, hard work, ingenuity and sheer grit allowed some returnees to reconfigure their lives. In rare cases, some described achieving fulfillment and happiness. But they represent a narrow minority.

Most speak of “getting by” or “making it.” Rabbit (a pseudonym), a 22-year-old deportee, said, “Depression hit me pretty hard.” Rabbit describes feelings of dispossession and dejection and an inability to live a “normal life.”

In characterizing the unrelenting pressure he feels, he said that he “lived in some of the hardest places [in Phoenix], and they didn’t get me. It’s just, Mexico’s got a grip on me now, and won’t let go.”

The Trump administration’s announcement on September 5, 2017 that it was rescinding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals consigned to Congress the responsibility of action on immigration legislation.

Most of those I interviewed were given a lifetime ban from legally reentering the United States. They have little hope for returning home. But since DACA’s cancelation, DACA recipients still in the United States risk losing their protection from deportation.

Deportees’ sense of belonging in the United States helps illuminate the potential ramifications of legislative inaction.

The ConversationLawmakers, citizen and media discourse often focus immigration debates on non-citizens’ potential economic and social benefits to the United States. Nevertheless, the U.S. government also claims to ground policy decisions in principles of basic human well-being.

In finding a way forward, legislators should consider the experiences of the untold deportees who, like Ray, have had their lives disrupted by dislocation from home.

Tobin Hansen is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of Oregon. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Stories from our archives that you might enjoy

  • Güerito

    Refoulement in Mexico: Overlooked, Under-Protected, 23 January 2018, 00:00 UTC:

    “Mexico illegally returns thousands of people to life threatening situations in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador each year. This practice is called refoulement and is illegal under international law.

    Thousands of Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans are fleeing from death threats, attacks and extortion from powerful gangs that control large parts of territory in their counties. These people have to make a dangerous journey to seek protection in Mexico. They are often misinformed by Mexican immigration (INM) about their rights to seek asylum in the country.

    Many people encounter INM officials who mock them, don’t ask or care about why they left their countries and push them back to a situation where death could be imminent.”


    • 101st

      Reminds me of the Black man from Chicago (last year) that was ‘seeking refuge’ in Canada………he was denied.

  • DreadFool

    howdy compadres, does anyone report of Mexico’s deportation “system” the thousands of poor souls YEARS behind bars in shit*hole conditions as their creepy countries won;t take them back etc etc, where are the Whoreje Ramos/s of on THIS subject, seems like the US is the only ESShole on earth…

  • WestCoastHwy

    Nice anthropological article if only the origins, physical and cultural development, biological characteristics, and social customs and beliefs were included. When Mexicans go and live anywhere, they are still Mexicans and therefore should be able to return to Mexico unaffected anthropologically. Mexican is an anthropologically identity that for the most part involves deep family rooted characteristics as mentioned above and passed from generation to generation where as USA born and raised legal citizens have not. USA inalienable rights are legally inherent and therefore are not passed from alienable parents to their children even if they are born in the USA unless they are documented as such but because of the alienable parents illegal state, do not.

    These Mexicans have lived most of their lives alienable of which consequently affects the lives around them and should be held liable. These irresponsible Mexican parents that involve their children into their illegal means should be also liable for their child’s endangerment. USA has created several means to enable alienability to become inalienability through legal processes that when given, were not used and therefore consequently created an even more illegal degree of alienability.

    The conclusion to this is that, “Rules will not be follow and will be broken” and the consequences will be expected of which will affect the live of all those involved. There is no means of anthropology that will legally help other than explaining why Mexicans are inherently unable to follow rules.

    • Deborah Kupitz

      So, I am guessing you are pro Trump, antidreamers. Shame on you!

      • WestCoastHwy

        guess again……..

    • betsyamy

      Point taken, but culture (anthropological identity) is not defined by borders, as the many anglicized ex-pat communities in Mexico prove. Whether you are a Mexican in the USA, a Canadian in Mexico, or an Italian in Argentina, you will retain vestiges of your cultural heritage while adopting some of the customs of your new land. Unfortunately your pseudo-legalize makes it hard to follow or understand the majority of the rest of your argument, but I think you are arguing that the sins of the fathers (who immigrated illegally) should be visited on the children. So based on your premis, all children of illegal immigrants, as soon as they reach majority, should have the moral intelligence to realize their parents wrongdoing and say: “Oh father, mother, you were wrong to bring me to the USA illegally. I must return home to Mexico forthwith?”

      • WestCoastHwy

        USA born citizens are in one way or another from immigrants; now, you need to define immigrants. USA is a multicultural anthropological diverse nation. Furthermore, if you enter the USA without proper documentation or extend your stay without additional documentation, you are against the law and if apprehended, you will be held, prosecuted, and ultimately deported.

        If you cognitively entered the USA under said pretense and where responsible for children, then you are endangering those children’s lives. These Mexican that are deported and leave family behind should have the decency to make arrangements for their family members left behind to reunite with them in Mexico.

        I support the law and frown on those that brake the law and especially those who implicate children.

    • Mike S


      • WestCoastHwy

        what a putz. how about something more original concentration camper!

        • Mike S

          Trump has a Nazi policy adviser in his administration named Steven Miller. The guy has a pathological hatred of Mexicans and others of darker skin. I can’t tell the difference between what you spout and what Miller spouts.

          • WestCoastHwy

            Your infatuation with Nazis and Trump is old, you need to move on. You are giving infamy the pleasure of existence. I myself get tired of Jews, Nazis, Jesus, Guadalupe, Casper the friendly Ghost…etc and the people the sensationalize them to the point the it’s total bull sh*t. So, move on my friend!

          • Mike S

            You and Steven Miller are two peas in a pod.

          • WestCoastHwy

            Do you mean Steve Miller Band and I, I will take that as a complement, thank you.

          • Mike S

            No, I meant the bald headed bigot…the puke who is Trump’s adviser on immigration. The guy that reminds me of Himmler.

          • WestCoastHwy

            Sorry, don’t follow politics….but Steve Miller Band rocks!

    • Anthropologist wannabe

      • WestCoastHwy

        Well, I do have 30 hrs of study but find it very depressing that I could of had twenty wives without going through some seriously bad divorces if I would have lived in a non-western american tribe before the Spanish f*cked it all up! But then again, I could of not amassed my present day fortune.

  • 101st

    It raises questions about human costs of immigrating illegally.

  • gypsyken

    I can understand why the deportees preferred living in the U.S. But I don’t understand how a citizen of the U.S., the richest country the world has ever known, can be proud of being a citizen of a country that doesn’t provide all its citizens with a decent education or health care, and whose interventions in other countries are responsible for most of the violence in the world.

    • Mike S

      You got that right. US has 600 billionaires and 4 million millionaires…the so called one tenth of one one percent and the one percent respectively. . We also have 20% of our children living below poverty line and 100 million either uninsured or grossly under-insured. I would guess that the quality of life for the middle class and lower middle class (the bulk of the country by far), doesn’t even rate in the top 20 countries in the world. Our “Walmart” economy is not all it’s cracked up to be.

  • Mike S

    There must be exceptions for people like this. Like all the dreamers he did nothing wrong. New arrivals and people who commit serious crimes yes. Not people like this. Deport Trump’s mail-order bride- she was here working illegally at one time. This is simply wrong.

    • BB

      True, but he has a lot of deplorable backers, so he gets away with anything. For now. Heck, even he said if he were to shoot someone dead in the street people would still support him. I heard one deplorable woman say on camera, “as long as the person didn’t die, she would still support him.”

  • barsongs

    I wish the article was a bit more forthcoming as to the circumstance of each of the interviewees’s deportation. I am a strong supporter of amnesty for Dreamers but if one breaks the law, for better or worse, you are on your own. Not passing judgment. It’s just that the vast majority of Dreamers, like most Americans, have clean records. Those are the ones we must fight for first. I am so deeply saddened (and embarrassed) by how my country has lost its fundamental and foundational bearings. The pendulum will swing back. In the meantime, we need to encourage and assist each and every one of the million+ American Mexicans who are eligible to vote in US elections. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!! Contact Democrats Abroad to register and VOTE!

  • Kele Omana

    it really bugs me how the illegal thing is so downplayed. Not even mentioned in this article.

    • Leftists are masters are conflating illegal immigration (a criminal activity) with legal immigration (a process). It serves to smear conservatives who mostly oppose the former and support the latter as xenophobes.

      Actually, leftists excel at misleading verbiage. “Liberals,” “progressives,” “Dreamers,” etc. You really gotta hand it to them. They even have convinced almost all conservatives to use those sweet terms.

      I always use, and encourage others to do the same, leftist, collectivist, socialist and illegal alien. In other words, call a spade a spade.

      • Kele Omana

        and lefty extremist!

    • Mike S

      The Dreamers did nothing illegal. US employers broke lots of labor hiring laws that were never enforced because of GOP pressure from business interests not to enforce them. These kids were caught in the middle and should not be deported to a country they do not know. Most are really good people.

      • Kele Omana

        I’d like to know the percentage of dreamers that actually fall under that category. I know one dreamer, and she told me she always used to get busted for stealing. I’m not saying all dreamers are bad by any means, but the one i know did not leave a good impression. Of course i realize that the dreamers did nothing illegal, but I am against illegal immigration, especially at 20,000 ppl per month coming in?? That’s ludicrous!! They come into about 5 places, all which have too much traffic already, and they have taken over my industry!, where i now have trouble getting a job! So many ppl don’ t speak English here and i have some ppl getting mad at me because i don’t know what the hell they’re saying. Several times i have wanted to live in another country, but i would never go illegally, steal someone’s ss number, and then have kids there!!!!! And then Daca people protest here after all we’ve given them? The parents of Dacas did something very wrong and they were rewarded for it.

        • Mike S

          By far, most illegal immigrants from Mexico came looking for better wages than were available in Mexico. There were laws against hiring them that were totally ignored or watered down so much it became a useless “honor system”. GOP business interests and GOP politicians led by the US Chamber of Commerce pushed for that environment because they wanted cheap labor and to weaken union bargaining power. Most took low paid jobs in agriculture and jobs Americans didn’t want like dishwashers, construction labor, car washes, slaughter houses, fast food franchises, sweat shops, nannies, etc. There were few deportations and word got out that jobs were available and it was safe to come to the US. Some US companies even ran ads in Mexican newspapers.
          Most were good, law abiding, hard-working people. Eventually they put roots down & called for children and wives to join them; those young children are today’s Dreamers. They know only America and have little in common with Mexico. The number of undocumented residents from Mexico has been decreasing steadily since 2008 as border tightened and deportations for new arrivals and law-breakers picked up. We must take some responsibility for enticing this situation. Your anecdotal example should not be extrapolated to all Dreamers. They had nothing to do with the GREAT BUSH RECESSION that took us 6 years to dig out of. Trump scapegoats Mexican and is holding them as ransom for his ugly, expensive, useless wall. Simply enforcing labor hiring laws with some teeth would be far better than any wall- but that wouldn’t appeal to Trump’s bigoted base.

          • Kele Omana

            How could most of them be “law abiding” if they were all illegal? Just because some big slimy business invites them over doesn’t make it any more legal. And It’s not bigotry, it’s the law. Everyone I’ve talked to is concerned about the illegal part, and i know for a fact they are not racist. Liberals and dems make this association all to lightly, as well as many other assumptions. Some of my favorite ppl here are Mexicans who have worked hard to get here legally. And my ancestors did too. The business that invited them over are just greedy companies that want to take advantage of Mexicans by giving them lower pay than what the norm is in this country. So it rips off Mexicans and Americans at the same time. Only 5% of farmers in the states are immigrants, so the B.S. you always here about how we need them to farm (because we don’t want to do it) is a lie. A huge bit of our unemployed population are without technical skills so they need those jobs like the ones in fast food restaurants. That is not the truth that no Americans want to do that work. It’s a lie.

          • Mike S

            I live in California -the number one agricultural state in the nation by far and know first hand a lot about agriculture and ranching. California also produces 90% of the wine in the US. I can tell you first hand that the undocumented Mexican may not own the farms, ranches, dairies, orchards, and vineyards but they provide 70% of the work force. Think about that the next time you eat, fruit, nuts, vegetables, cheese, chicken, or beef. or have a glass of fine California wine.

          • Kele Omana

            As i said, only 5% of farmers in the U.S. are immigrants. If we didn’t have the illegal immigrants here doing our farming, we would have Americans to doing it, just like we do in many other states without the help of immigrants.
            i don’t eat cheese, chicken, or beef, and hardly ever drink wine. I grow some of my own food, but most of my fruits and veggies happen to come from farmers that are legal Americans. Somehow they miraculously are able to farm without the help of illegals. Go figure.

          • Mike S

            Don’t know where you live. I live in California when I’m not in Mx and have traveled the US over many times including growing up in Ohio and up-state NY and lived short times in 7 other states. You sound like a vegan. Most of the actual labor of growing fruits and vegetables in Ca is done by Mexicans; they are very skilled at it. California agriculture is not mechanized corporate KING KORN or Big Ag wheat. California grows more than half the nation’s fruits and vegetables including:

            99 percent of artichokes, 99 percent of walnuts, 98% of Brussel sprouts, 97 percent of kiwis, 97 percent of plums, 95 percent of celery, 95 percent of garlic, 90% of wine grapes, 90% of almonds, 90% of domestic avocados, 89 percent of cauliflower, 71 percent of spinach, 71% of lettuce, 69 percent of carrots, nation’s 2nd biggest rice producer, (and the list goes on and on and on…..).
            I doubt if US citizens would be willing to do that hard, low paid work.


          • Kele Omana

            It is extra low paid work because of illegals’ willingness to work for less than the pay scales that everyone goes by here. If illegals weren’t here, other ways would be found to make it work. That’s the way everything works. I find it quite unbelievable that you can possibly truly believe that we would not be able to eat here in the states without illegal Mexicans; Therefore, I am not even going to waste my time discussing this any further.

          • Mike S

            I’ll try to pry open your closed mind a bit. Yes we could triple farm wages but food costs would go way up. We have 300 million hungry mouths to feed in our big cities and urban areas. Farm work will always be low paid. Migrant farm workers in Europe are low paid. Government enforcing wages in rural areas would be quite an expensive bureaucracy. I would love to see 400 acre organic “truck farming” all over the US, but that won’t happen in a highly competitive capitalist society.

          • Kele Omana

            I’m the one with the closed mind and your dumb ass can’t even think of any solutions other than to hire illegal people? Your idiocy astounds me. Don’t waste my time.

          • Mike S

            Everything you just stated you made up out of thin air. I never advocated hiring illegals. My solution would be to enforce labor hiring laws with some teeth and maybe a well controlled guest worker program instead of your dumb ass expensive ugly wall. Your mind is not closed- you don’t have a mind.

          • Mike S

            Number of undocumented Mexican residents in the US is 6 million out of a country of 325 million- That is 1.8% of our population. Half are “over stays” who came in legally and will eventually return and don’t plan on putting roots down.. Most live in California where they are well respected and liked for their hard work. Their violent crime rate is far below the national average. Many pay into SS and Medicare and will never see those benefits. Their number have been going down steadily since 2008 when the border tightened and deportations increased. Then along comes Trump in 2016 who works his cult following into fearful frenzy that illegal Mexicans are taking over the country and probably voting for Hillary (2 false demagogic statements). He calls them criminals and rapists…(quick protect your daughters and wives). They are stealing all your jobs. Then he calls for a $35 billion wall to protect ourselves against this scourge. Do you realized what a fearful, bigoted, demagogic conman he is?

  • These situations are a true tragedy. Who’s to blame? The boneheaded parents of these kids. As Trump would say: Sad.

  • Kool

    The guy looks like a thug with all of his tattoos. Good Riddance.

    • Frank Black

      Exactly! We should immediately deport everyone with too many thug-like tatoos!

      How about Adam Levine, Johnny Depp, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Paris Jackson, Pharell, and many more thugish celebrities and cultural icons.

      Also Justin Beiber should be refused entry whenever he tries to enter the US from Canada… have you seen his thuggy tats!!!

      • Kool

        No we should immediately deport everyone who are in the US ILLEGALLY.

        Don’t try to prop up your criminal friends by comparing them to celebrities that have entered the US tru legal channels.

        • Frank Black

          My reply exactly addressed the contents of the post to which it was attached. The post above said nothing about illegals, but was solely concerned with a person’s appearance – specifically their tattoos that made them look like a thug.

          I’m also not aware of having any criminal friends. You must know something about my friends that I don’t. I’d certainly be interested in more specific details…

          • Kool

            If people want to dress like a thug then.. people look at them like a thug. In this case the guy looks like a thug, dig deeper he was and illegal thug.

            Sometimes you can judge a book by it’s cover.

          • Frank Black

            Adam Levine, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Justin Beiber all dress and look more like thugs than the guy in the picture. They also look tougher. None of this makes any of them thugs.

            Yes, let’s dig deeper… this guy was brought in by his parents when he was 10. Hardly a conscious illegal act on his part (his parents, yes… him, no) – nor did he actually have a choice.

            In my experience, you can almost never judge someone by their appearance.

            I’m also waiting on the edge of my seat for you to back up your claim that my friends are criminals. This really does concern me!

  • BB

    Meanwhile back at the ranch, there are an estimated 50,000 illegal Irish immigrants living in Boston. Only 35 (not 35,000. 35) were deported last year. Go figure! Maybe ICE can’t find the others.

    • Frank Black

      Haven’t you heard about the new plan to build a huge wall along the East Coast? That’ll keep future swarms out!

  • How unfortunate it is that the Dreamers, with the long-colonizing (ex: “Sigame”) Mexican Government, blames and confronts Americans for their plight and not, with Americans, blame and confront the long-invading Mexican Government.