Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

The Mexico City Runaround


Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz
Loyola University Chicago


Time to read

3 Minutes

Guest post by Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz, Loyola University Chicago. Dr. Gomberg-Muñoz’s work explores how members of mixed-status families navigate law and society in the United States and Mexico. Dr. Gomberg-Muñoz has published two books and more than twenty scholarly articles and book chapters, as well as coauthored policy briefs, public reports, blogs, and news articles.

Mexico city airport
Photo by Andrew Schultz

The planes carrying deportees land at the Mexico City airport every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoon. Some 150 people descend a narrow ladder and walk across the tarmac to the international terminal, where they are processed by Mexico’s National Migration Institute and handed an official certificate of repatriation. Then, with U.S. government-issued white plastic sacks holding their scant belongings, they head outside to the bus terminal to begin the next leg of their journey; or, if they plan to stay in Mexico City, they exit the terminal through the sliding glass doors of Gate 6. Most of these deportees are leaving whole lives behind in the United States, including families, jobs, and homes. Many are unsure where they will spend the night, much less can envision how they will start their lives anew in Mexico.

On the other side of Gate 6, Ana Laura López and other members of Deportados Unidos en la Lucha (Deportees United in Struggle, or DUL) are waiting; as fellow deportees, they can relate to the disorientation and despair. Ana Laura and her colleagues spend much of the afternoon greeting deportees as they trickle out of the gate, handing out cards with DUL’s contact information and asking if they can help. They help track down deportees’ family members, offer the use of their cell phones, and locate the addresses of family homes. For those who no longer have family members or a place to stay in Mexico, DUL also offers a shelter, a job, and a purpose.     

Ana Laura’s politicization took place in Chicago, where she lived for nearly twenty years and organized against exploitative labor practices as an undocumented worker. Following her deportation, she arrived in the land of her citizenship only to find that her status did not translate into recognition of her claims to rights and resources. Like many deportees, Ana Laura and her colleagues went from noncitizens in their nation of migration to “estranged citizens” in their nation of return. They founded DUL in 2016 to help newly-arrived deportees orient themselves and rebuild their lives—critical services that the Mexican state largely fails to provide. To support themselves and their work, they applied for and received a small government grant to open a silk-screening shop. There, they design and print political T-shirts under the Deportados [Deportees] Brand, and above the shop created a makeshift shelter where those with nowhere else to go can find respite and a safe place to sleep. Together, they draw on their experiences as undocumented migrants, deportees, and citizens in their homelands to challenge their expulsion from one state and their abandonment in another.

Between 2017 and 2020, I collaborated with organizers from DUL and two other deportee-led organizations in Mexico City, Otros Dreams en Acción and Comunidad en Retorno [Other Dreams in Action or ODA and Community in Return] on a research/advocacy project that we call Project Solidarity. We conducted more than 400 interviews with deportees and return migrants, community organizers, and state officials, including 350 semi-structured interviews with recent deportees in Mexico City. Our research indicates that more than half of deported respondents lived in the United States for more than 15 years; 81 percent have family members in the United States, and 66 percent were separated from their children by deportation.

Importantly, we also found that deportees who have spent extended time in the United States often struggle to access housing, employment, health care, social esteem, and government services after deportation. The barriers they face are related to the amount of time they spent in the United States: deportees whose absence from Mexico was relatively short may be able to return to homes, jobs, and families with relative ease. But most, including Ana Laura, have spent a decade or more in the United States and need to attain Mexican identity documents, file for citizenship and/or custody of U.S.-born children, apply for housing and jobs, transfer educational and training credentials, and otherwise reincorporate themselves into Mexican society. When they attempt these processes, deportees encounter governmental inefficiency, lag time, apathy, and long delays, which combine to create the “Mexico City Runaround,” a period during which deportees’ time is systematically wasted and their efforts to rebuild their lives are stalled. Ostensibly in their homelands, deportees often arrive in Mexico only to discover that they have gone from noncitizens in their nation of migration to neglected citizens in their nation of return.

Left to fend for themselves, deportees like Ana Laura have done just that. Yet their mission is much broader than ensuring daily survival: as “Deportees United in Struggle,” they engage in political organizing to contest their deportation from the United States and their desertion in Mexico, challenging regional narratives of criminalization and securitization. You can find out more about their deportee-led advocacy efforts at odamexico.org. You can also find fuller results of our collaborative research here and a translocal resource map for migrants and deportees here.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

R. Gomberg-Muñoz. (2022) The Mexico City Runaround. Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2022/07/mexico-city-runaround. Accessed on: 14/04/2024

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