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Mexico Braces For Flood Of Returnees As Trump Cracks Down On Immigration

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Mexican government wants to help its citizens who are facing deportation from the United States. In fact, the government has set aside $50 million to do just that. Mexico is bracing for a flood of returnees as the Trump administration moves to crack down on illegal immigration. For more, we reached NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, good morning.

MARTIN: So what does this money mean? What are they doing with this? Fifty million dollars is a lot. After all, most of these people don't have legal status in the U.S.

KAHN: Well, the new money is being distributed to the 50 Mexican consulates throughout the U.S. So I pressed one senator here who really favors this idea. You know, this would be tricky for the Mexican government to enter into legal battles in the U.S. And he insists that the money is for what he says defending Mexican human rights, things like seminars to help people prepare if immigration officials come knocking at your door, and not for individual legal cases.

But I have to tell you, we've heard here commentators and even a former government official calling for Mexico to clog up the already overburdened U.S. court system with legal challenges from deportees.

MARTIN: But again, this is a whole lot of money for a country that has had its own domestic economic struggles. How is the Mexican government justifying it?

KAHN: Well, their national pride is really hurt. Mexicans feel really offended by Donald Trump's depiction of them as rapists, criminals, illegals in the U.S. You know, and then there's also Mexicans send a lot of money back home. Last year they sent a record $27 billion.

They say they're in the U.S. doing the dirty, dangerous jobs Americans won't do. And they just feel really greatly disrespected. And it seems like everyone in Mexico now is taking up the cause of their fellow citizens' plight in the U.S. Let me play you some of what I've heard from the government and deportees themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: This is an ad by the Mexican Senate running on radio and TV now. Mexicans in the United States deserve to have their rights respected and the Senate is working just to do that, says the announcer. Earlier this month, with cameras in tow, even President Enrique Pena Nieto went to the airport here in Mexico City to greet more than 100 deportees from the U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ENRIQUE PENA NIETO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "The doors will always be open to you. And if you let us, the government will accompany you as you try and reintegrate into your home country," said Pena Nieto. Each deportee was handed a sandwich and phone numbers of offices to call, but recent deportees want more.

ANA LAURA LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Ana Laura Lopez says, "in my case, they didn't give me anything." She was deported four months ago after living in Chicago for 15 years. Lopez wants legal assistance to appeal her deportation. Other deportees say they need job assistance and help breaking through Mexico's byzantine bureaucracy to get official IDs and enroll their children in schools. Eliazar Hernandez Cardona was deported last October.

ELIAZAR HERNANDEZ CARDONA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I really want to work, but can't find a job," says Hernandez. He says he was deported after suing a company after an accident at a steel plant in Wisconsin. NPR was unable to confirm either of the two deportee's stories. Dalia Gabriela Garcia of the National Migration Institute says her agency is doing a lot for the deportees.

DALIA GABRIELA GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Garcia says there are many opportunities in Mexico, especially for people returning with new skills and able to speak English. Meanwhile, Mexican lawmakers upset over Trump's hostility toward them say it may be time to rethink future cooperation with the U.S. Here's Senator Jose Olvera Acevedo.

JOSE OLVERA ACEVEDO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We could start demanding the U.S. do more to prove that the people they are deporting are actually Mexicans. We make it very easy now for them," says Olvera. And Senator Armando Rios Piter says cooperation in other areas shouldn't be seen as a given anymore.

ARMANDO RIOS PITER: We have the right to stop collaborating in terms of anti-terrorism actions. That's important for the U.S. It's not that important for us.

MARTIN: So that's pretty tough talk from Mexico, but what if the U.S. calls their bluff? Like, is Mexico really poised to stop collaborating with America on these important issues?

KAHN: That's what we're hearing from lawmakers now. They just feel like their backs are up against the wall, and it's time to get serious and push back.

MARTIN: What does it mean though for people who are going to get deported? Mexicans coming back, what's going to happen to them? Are there jobs? Are there opportunities for them?

KAHN: Well, officially here, Rachel, unemployment is low, especially in the industrial cities that are doing relatively well from free trade with the U.S., but salaries here are miserable. And then there's all the tough talk by President Trump over scrapping NAFTA and threats of a border tax on exports from Mexico. So there's fear here that that could lead to significant job cuts, which would make it tough for the deportees coming back, let alone for the millions of Mexicans entering the job market every year.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.