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They call migrants “pollos” because everyone plucks them

20 December 2006

[my note — CNDH is a consitutionally mandated “autonomous organism” and part of the Federal Judiciary, but unlike other branches of the judiciary, it cannot issue arrest warrants, and has no enforcement powers. I translated “visadores generales” as “caseworkers”, but these CNDH officers are public prosecutors able to file denuncias in criminal and civil courts (for either citizens or mistreated foreigners, by the way).   It has a good reputation for zealousness and ndependence, though – especially in the case of then Jalisco Governor, Francisco Ramírez Acuña refused to look into human rights abuses when anti-globalization protesters were roughed up by Guadalajara police.  Ramírez Acuña is now Secretaría de gobernacíon, which should worry people concerned about Mexico.  As usual, I’ve made a few changes from the original for clarity.  The original story was a sidebar to another story, on celebrations in Tijuana, information I added to this article.] 

VICTOR BALLINAS Correspondent (Jornada, 18 December 2006)


Tijuana, BC.  They come from Puebla, Nayarit, Jalisco, Michoacán and Zacatecas.  All of them worked in the U.S. for several years.  But, with their faces etched with fear and disoriention after having been deported to the frontier, they were in no mood to join in the posadas in this border city.  They prefer to stay locked up in the Casa del Migrante rather than run the risks of the streets here. 

“Out there, the cops are waiting to take everying we have.  They’re worse than thieves. They take everything, even your shoes.  Thieves at least sometimes give you a ride where you’re going.” 

The Scalabrini shelter sees between 120 and 140 deportees from the United States daily.  Here they rest and feel protected, at least temporarily.  Out there, on the street, danger lucks.  “We only have the dirty clothes we were deported in, and the police rob us or toss us in jail.  We’re hunted, and they  know when we go out,” the deportees charge. 

Today,  Luis Soberanes Fernández, President of the National Commission of Human Right (CNDH, for its initials in Spanish) came to observe conditions at the facility. Accompaied by the case worker [“visador general”] charged with overseeing these deportees, National Ombudsman Sarbanes met with several dozen people who had been deported only hours earlier.

The shelter’s occupants confessed to Ombudsman Sarbanes, “We’re afraid to go in the street.  We don’t want to go out, even to the corer store, because the police are waiting for us.” 

Tense, with fearful and anxiety-ridden faces, the deportees were reluctant at first to tell their stories.   Only one-by-one did they begin to talk.  One man said he was deported from the United States in a matter of hours, after working 16 years in that country.   

The CNDH vistador assured the resident, “We are not the government, but we need to know what we cases are defending.  No one, and certainly no Mexican official can detain and jail you simply for having been an immigrant.  Tell us what happened.  Will you denounce the people who robbed you.  We’re here to listen.  Help us, so that other migrants won’t go through the same things you’ve been through.”

“We’re here,” the migrants said, “because we’re afraid of the police.  This Tijuna sons of bitches are the worst cops in Mexico.  Yesterday, we were deported at dawn, loaded into a truck and driven to the border.  The U.S. “migra” warned us, “be careful, don’t travel alone.  Stay in groups so you can defend yourselves.’” 

“And, as soon as we crossed the border, the police were waiting.  Getting out of the [U.S.] truck only two of us got away from them.  The rest of us were picked up.  The cops  grabbed us and tried to get us into their patrol cars.  We ran and hid out in a store.  The lady there told us to “calm down, the cops don’t come in here.  It was hours before we could leave.”    

The National Ombudsman shook his head.  He became indignant, and loudly demanded to speak to the CNDH Director for Tijuana.  “Where are the visdadores?”  Told they were in their office downtown,  Dr. Sarbanes said, “They’re needed here.  They’re REQUIRED here.  Now!”  Sarbanes added “they need to take denunicas and to give these people security.  They need to contact the Mexican consulates and find out what’s going on.”  

A youth in a wheelchair, barely able to speak, related his story.  “I was looking for work when la migra picked me up.  I was delivering fish, but had to quit to have an operation for cancer.  The doctor told me it’s heridary, runs in my family.  I had to stop working.  I was told I couldn’t work with fish.  I made a claim in Illinois, and was making my monthly job search report, when I was picked up and deported.”  “I’m afraid to leave.  My friends here have talked about the police that take their money and clothes.  A few of us are stuck here, others have gone to jail. I’m afraid of what will happen to me if I leave.” 

Marcelino Buendía also told his story.  “I’d been working in Denver for 20 years.  I received a deportation order because I’d been convicted of driving without a licence, but there was no way for we to get one.  So, I drove without one.  I’m going to stay here a few days, and speak with my brother who can get me a few dollars to cross back.  That’s my life, it’s all I know.” 

Asked by the CNDH visador general when he was deported, Buendía said, “The police came to my house at five in the morning, and I was deported at daybreak the following day.”

Another temporary resident complained, “In Los Angeles, they grabbed a friend of mine who didn’t speak English, so they threw him in with the crazies, where a psychiatrist was passing out medication to make everyone sleep.  He told me ‘These people are all crazy, and they’re driving me nuts.  I’m only here becase I can’t speak English.  Every day they’re giving me pills, but they’re not going to help me speak English, and I’ll stay locked up here.  It’ll be weeks until I get deported.”   

With their confidence restored somewhat, everyone was ready to tell their story.  Everyone agreed, “Here, we’re afraid of the police.  Lookl, they grab us and take everything in our pockets, and our identification papers.  They take our money, when they don’t take us to jail.  They take everything – money, watches, clothes and even shoes.  They keep some, threaten the rest.  It’s better for us to stay here.”

There were further complaints.  “I called the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles, but no one answered.  I couldn’t talk to anyone who could help me.  I would like to add that the Immigration officers who spoke both Englisha and Spanish mistreated us the most.” 

Someone said that the U.S. migra treats the indocumendos better than Mexican police.  But one man disagreed in part.  “The Sheriff in Lancaster took $4500, my watch and my cell phone.  If the
U.S. police treat us better, it’s just that they feed us and don’t beat us up.  But as soon as we enter
Mexico, we have to fear the police.” 

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