Detainees Beg to be Deported Anywhere but the Texas Border

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Nearly two-dozen detainees in the Torrance County Detention Facility in New Mexico are begging the United States government to deport them anywhere but the Texas-Mexico border where the brutal Zeta cartel is kidnapping and killing immigrants with impunity.

The migrants in detention sent letters this week asking for help from the nonprofit humanitarian group No More Deaths. The letters caught the attention of the New Mexico chapter of the ACLU, which is trying to assist the migrants.

In a letter written by detainees in English with the opening line “Please save us!” three detainees say a Mexican man who was transferred to their unit told them a terrifying tale of how he was kidnapped and held for ransom by the Zetas after being deported in Tamaulipas. The city is not named in the letter but it is most likely Reynosa across from McAllen or Matamoros, which neighbors Brownsville, since the majority of deportees are released in these two cities in Tamaulipas.

The detainee told the men at the detention center that he was picked up by a city policeman after crossing into Mexico. The policeman drove him to a safe house run by Los Zetas where he was blindfolded and held for ransom. Those who couldn’t pay were killed. This man’s family was able to pay the ransom so he was let go after a beating. “We do not want to meet the same fate as this unfortunate group,” the detainees write in the letter.

The detainees are not arguing that they be let go, simply that they be returned to Mexico on the Arizona or California borders. Anything but the “borders of New Mexico or Texas because this is Los Zetas territory,” they say.

My only surprise from the letters sent by the migrants is that the issue hasn’t come up sooner. After having spent last summer writing a story about migrant children being deported to Tamaulipas I can tell you that this account of the kidnapping by police is entirely consistent with the countless interviews that I did with migrants while in Reynosa and Matamoros. This is an open secret in Tamaulipas. Last August a Tamaulipas official, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution, told me migrant children were being kidnapped in Reynosa by the city police on behalf of the cartel.

“These are very well-known secrets,” he said. “But we cannot talk about it openly because we live here, and it’s very, very delicate. There are people in uniform and people without uniforms watching all the time.”

I also spoke with a Guatemalan migrant who had been kidnapped in Reynosa by the cartel and was only released after his family paid a ransom. He was holed up in a migrant shelter in Reynosa begging anyone from the Mexican government to deport him directly back to Guatemala. He said if he left the shelter he feared he would be kidnapped again.

This was only a few days before the grisly discovery of the massacre of 72 migrants at a ranch in San Fernando just south of Matamoros in Tamaulipas.

With the cartels running the show in Tamaulipas it’s irresponsible and unconscionable that the U.S. government deport migrants into the hands of vicious cartel members where they will be kidnapped, murdered and beaten with impunity. The U.S. is deporting an unprecedented number of migrants — last year, nearly 400,000 men, women and children were deported. Until Mexico can regain control of Tamaulipas and Chihuahua the U.S. government should reconsider sending thousands of helpless migrants into a wolf’s den.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.