Border Battle: Deported illegal immigrant says 'I'll come back'

8:50 PM, Oct 31, 2011   |    comments
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The bus is labeled Geo Transport Inc., for the company contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention and Removal Operations.

The bus comes from the South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, Texas. So far this fiscal year, ICE has sent back to Mexico 15,000 illegal immigrants from the Pearsall facility alone, and 19,000 nationwide. The average stay is 31 days.

On the night 9Wants to Know went along, 22 people made the two-hour bus ride to the border. It is supposed to be their last journey before leaving the United States.

Noe Mendoza, 28, has other plans.

"I know one of these days I'll come back real soon," Mendoza said.

Mendoza first came to the United States 14 years ago when he was a teenager.

"I crossed the river - illegal, you know? Like all Mexicans come to America," Mendoza said.

While is not accurate to say all Mexicans come illegally to America, you might understand why Mendoza feels that way. He comes from a family of illegal immigrants. Mendoza has 17 brothers in Colorado, Texas and other states.

"Everybody crossed the river," Mendoza said. "My family is real sad [I'm being deported] - my wife, my mama."

The number of illegal immigrant apprehensions by the border patrol is down in recent years, from a peak of nearly 1.7 million in fiscal year 2000 to less than half-a-million in fiscal year 2010. (Read more border patrol statistics here.) 

While there are no official figures about the number of illegal immigrants currently living in the United States, a Pew Hispanic Center study estimated the population to be nearly 12 million in 2005. (Read the study here.)

According to the same study, an estimated 56 percent of illegal immigrants came from Mexico and 22 percent came from other Latin American countries. An additional 13 percent came from Asia, 6 percent from Europe and Canada, and 3 percent from Africa and other countries.

Mendoza is from the interior of Mexico, but he has very little contact with a handful of distant relatives there. He is being dropped in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, more than 700 miles from the village where he was born. There is nobody waiting for him.

"I feel nervous," Mendoza said.

Mendoza has heard what happens to young men like him along the border in Mexico.

Faced with few options, many are forced to work for the drug cartels, smuggling loads of dope across the river and engaging in deadly combat with rival drug gangs.

The life span of a cartel member is short. Once you're in the drug business, it is almost impossible to get out with your life. Mendoza fears it could easily happen to him.

"I'm scared, very scared," Mendoza said. "The cartel, I'm young, so the cartel will try to catch me to go with them."

Mendoza smiles as he describes his life as a farm worker.

"It's real good, actually. I'm working the ranch. Horses. Animals," he said.

It is a life he is desperate to return to.

The Obama administration announced a commitment to prioritize "the removal of criminal aliens and egregious immigration law violators."

In September, operation "CrossCheck" led to the arrest of more than 2,900 people, including 102 in Colorado and Wyoming.

Those arrested in Colorado were convicted of crimes ranging from possession of a controlled substance to sexually exploiting children.

"Our goal is to remove the criminal element," ICE Assistant Field Office Director Randall Henderson said.

Henderson oversees the South Texas Detention Complex, which houses illegal immigrants from approximately 72 countries.

Henderson acknowledges that many of the detainees, including Mendoza, do not have criminal records aside from being found guilty of breaking U.S. Immigration law.

"Whatever the law says to do, that's what we do," Henderson said. "If the judge orders them removed, then we enforce that removal."

During their stay in ICE custody, detainees are given food, clothing, and medical care.

"Some of these folks have never even had medical care or seen a dentist until they come here," Henderson said.

At the international bridge in Laredo, Texas, detainees are given their belongings and restraints are removed.

"We treat them humanely," ICE Deputy Field Office Director Jace Calderas said.

Calderas is used to seeing familiar faces, people who've been deported more than once.

"If they come back the penalties are more severe," Calderas said. "We just enforce the law and continue doing what we do."

Repeat immigration offenders can be prosecuted at the federal level for illegal reentry, which could result in prison time before deportation.

"We make our streets safer," Calderas said. "We love our country. We are dedicated to making it a better place."

Mendoza says he's willing to risk prosecution to be with his family again. He plans to cross the Rio Grande just like he did 14 years ago, beginning the journey again.

"My life is over here. I don't have a life in Mexico. I'll come back," Mendoza said.

Two weeks after our interview with Mendoza, he called us to say he has returned to the U.S. and is working at a farm.

Tell us what you think about the battle for the border. Join the conversation on our 9NEWS Facebook page.

This is part two of a week-long series examining the battle for the border and how it affects Colorado.

Our investigation continues Wednesday night with never-before-seen footage as federal law enforcement shut down a Mexican drug cartel ranch in Colorado.

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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