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Many Mexican Deportees from the U.S. Cross Into a World of Swindlers, Drug Lords and Violence

It's a place owned and operated by powerful cartels, which transport hundreds of tons of cocaine, pot and meth into the U.S.

CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO - FEB 27: Federal policemen waits for orders on February 27, 2009, in the violence-ridden border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
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The following is an excerpt from the new book The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail by Óscar Martínez ( Verso Books, 2013): 

El Paso del Norte International Bridge, better known as the Santa Fe Bridge, spits out dozens of deported Mexicans. It’s a busy day. Every Friday at five o’clock in the afternoon, airplanes from all over the United States land in El Paso, Juárez’s sister city. Undocumented migrants are unloaded from these planes and driven down to the bridge that circumvents the border wall. They emerge disoriented, with a plastic bag in hand that holds a copy of the papers ordering them out of the country. Some hardly speak Spanish and use Spanglish to ask how to reach their hometown, which they may hardly remember. Some have no family in Mexico at all.

“Seventeen years over there,” says one young man, turning, stupefied, to look down Juárez Avenue.

There’s an immense difference between one side of the bridge and the other.

Grupo Beta agents offer the deported men and women transportation. A volunteer driver suggests going to a shelter run by Dominican friars. I can tell that for a few of them, it’s hard to take those first few steps away from the Santa Fe Bridge. They stare into the distance, into their home country. A few, however, dressed like cholos,  plow forward with confidence, swaggering in their bright sneakers and loose pants, decked out with earrings and huge, swinging chains. The few sporting gray pants and a gray sweatshirt have just been let out of prison for serious felonies, such as attempted murder. Others are in field laborers’ garb, thick long-sleeved button-down shirts and cotton pants. These guys have been caught in the act of trying to cross, and it’s rare that they’re younger than forty. The minority group is made up of over-fifties who came to the United States in the 1980s or early 90s, when there wasn’t yet a wall. When Juárez wasn’t what it is.

Some 6,000 Mexicans are deported every month by the El Paso customs office. On Friday evenings it looks like a school parking lot at the end of the day, with people rushing out the doors or waiting for their ride.

Currency exchange dealers mob the freshly deported migrants, hollering their offers. They circle the migrants as if they were tourists at a market, knowing that any money they have left from el otro lado, the other side, needs to be changed into pesos. Rodrigo, one of these dealers, dresses in orange, just like the Grupo Beta agents, to try to confuse migrants who are looking for advice. The three young women who work for him, wearing tiny shorts and shirts that show off their dark legs and belly buttons, take migrants by the arm and walk them to the exchange house.

“We only charge you three percent, we do it to help more than anything else,” Rodrigo lies as he pockets eight percent as tariff.

Still, on this street, options have to be measured by their degree of evil; the corner shop keeps thirty of every hundred dollars. But the technique there is more sophisticated. The fat woman responsible for luring migrants in tries to convince them that it’s the only place to get pesos. “They’re all swindlers who bribe the authorities,” Rodrigo complains, suspiciously eyeing the shop. The owner, a tall skinny man with gray hair and an enormous, hawkish nose mounted on his gaunt face, films us with a small video camera.