MATAMOROS, Tamaulipas, Mex. — The Obama administration has deported more than 1.9 million people from the United States since 2009. That's a record number that surpasses deportations under President George W. Bush’s two terms in office.
A recent report by human rights group Washington Office on Latin America says certain deportation practices place migrants in danger — deportees are often released into some of Mexico’s most violent border cities, and often in the middle of the night, with no documentation, no money, no resources to protect themselves.
Last year, more than 62,000 deportations from the U.S. were made across the International Bridge that connects Brownsville, Texas to Matamoros Mexico.
The contrast from the quiet settings of Brownsville into Matamoros is quite striking.
Here, Mexican soldiers patrol the streets with assault rifles. Residents live in fear.
That’s because of years of bloodshed as rival drug cartels war over control of the city.
Some describe Matamoros as lawless — with a few rules to stay alive.
The most important rule: Trust no one.
It’s a rule that undocumented immigrants deported here must learn quickly.
"I don’t feel safe here. I couldn't sleep all night thinking about. I’m afraid of what can happen at night," said Reynaldo Hernandez, who was deported a few months ago from Chicago.
He was at a bus station in Matamoros a day after he arrived. Like many other deportees, he was dropped off at night in the border city.
He spent the night in the bus station because he had nowhere to go. He doesn't know anyone and has no money.
He’s afraid of the drug cartels.
"They can kidnap me because they think I’m coming from up north and I have money with me," he said.
Like many deportees, Hernandez is stuck in this border city with no means to get back to his hometown some 500 miles away in central Mexico.
Deportees like him often become targets for the cartels, said Jeremy Slack, a University of Arizona professor who studied the dangers deportees face after being released into violent border towns.
"These become extremely difficult and dangerous situations where people are being held and extorted. And we know, for example, that a lot of criminal organizations have begun to prey on migrants because they have these strong connections to the U.S. and families in the U.S. can come up with a couple thousand dollars to get them out," Slack said.
Back in Matamoros, deportees are fortunate if they find their way to the only shelter in the city for returned immigrants.
Teresa Delgadillo Resendiz runs the shelter.
It can accommodate up to 200 deportees who are returned to this city. There are 32 bunk beds and a clean kitchen.
Delgadillo Resendiz advises the deportees not to leave the shelter unless it’s absolutely necessary.
"There is a lot of violence on the streets," she said. "Bad people, the Zetas, have grabbed immigrants and they've beaten them badly."
There are efforts to change this. The Department of Homeland Security has started a limited program to send deportees directly to Mexico City, which is generally considered safer.
And Congress in considering a bill that would end nighttime deportations. A recent survey by the University of Arizona found that one out of five deportees reported being dropped off between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.