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For more than a generation, Tijuana was effectively the Ellis Island of illegal immigration, with millions of people stopping before passing into the United States.
The town was a beacon for Mexicans fleeing the limitations they faced in towns far into their country’s interior. Even those who came and didn’t cross into the United States usually found a better life in the city’s relatively robust economy.
In 1994, the first wall between the two countries went up, separating Tijuana from San Diego. The wall essentially ended illegal immigration through Tijuana, forcing the city to focus inward, on providing for the local market, instead of depending on U.S. tourism and the fleeting presence of migrants. The town is showing signs of filling in after years of sprawling, and of developing high-quality entertainment that appeals to Tijuanenses.
The Obama Administration has deported more than two million people, many of them to Mexico and a large number of those back to Tijuana.
The big question Tijuana faces is how the return of these hundreds of thousands of deportees, worn out and depressed, will affect the optimistic energy it has always been known for. It is unprepared for them. The Mexican federal government’s reception at the border has improved and now is professional; rather it is during the weeks and months after deportation when these Mexicans, many literally undocumented (without birth certificate or voter ID), most often feel the full rejection of their native country.
A good many of these deportees feel bitter toward a country where they worked hard and for the most part followed the law, and toward their own country, sustained by the billions of dollars immigrants have sent home for so long.
I spent some time at a flophouse for deportees near the border – a place called the Casa de Yoño, named for the absentee owner of the place. From the street, it looks like an ordinary house. Inside, though, is a small community of men and some women, mostly deportees, renting a warren of tiny rooms that filled in the home’s courtyard in makeshift fashion over the years. Each renter pays 500 pesos a week for the privilege of living as close as possible to the border and their families in the United States.