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Posted Thursday, August 30, 2007
Deportees use "revolving door" to return to U.S.
By Tim Gaynor, Reuters Writer

PHOENIX (Reuters) - When a heavy knock came on the door of her Phoenix home, Mari knew that the immigration police had finally caught up with her. Arrested and held for a month in a U.S. jail, she was sent back to Guatemala on a prison flight.

But four weeks later, after raising a $5,000 smuggling fee, she was back with her family in Arizona.

As U.S. authorities step up deportations of illegal immigrants, a growing number of them, like Mari, are simply turning round and heading back stateside to rejoin families and resume their lives.

"Guatemala is no longer my home. All my roots are here in the country I have lived in since I was 15 years old ... I felt I had no option but to try to come back," said Mari, which is not her real name.

The little reported phenomenon of the repeat lawbreakers was highlighted by the high-profile case of Elvira Arellano, the Mexican illegal immigrant deported earlier this month for slipping back into the United States despite a previous removal in 1997.

"I know a lot of people in the same position as Elvira ... their whole life is here," said Mari's husband, Samuel, who is also an undocumented immigrant.

"If they throw them out of the country, sooner or later they will be back."

REVOLVING DOOR Some 12 million illegal immigrants live in the shadows in the United States. Last year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents deported 183,431 people amid stepped up raids in workplaces and homes nationwide.

ICE said removing Arellano -- who sought sanctuary in a Chicago church and became a cause celebre for pro-immigration activists -- was necessary to enforce U.S. immigration laws, and ensure that they were applied fairly.

"Miss Arellano willfully violated those laws and must face the consequences of her illegal actions," Jim Hayes, ICE director in Los Angeles, told a news conference.

Although no records are kept of the numbers of deported immigrants sneaking back in to the country -- as Arellano did to join her 8-year-old U.S.-born son Saul -- anecdotal evidence suggests that it is widespread.

"Deportation is a revolving door," said Elias Bermudez, the founder of Immigrants Without Borders, an advocacy group which works with thousands of illegal immigrants in the border state of Arizona.

"People are picked up at their homes and deported, and some of them are back in three or four days, so it is not an effective policy," he added.

Among those who have made the trip back is Demetrio, a Mexican waiter arrested and removed from Los Angeles in 2006, leaving behind a Guatemalan wife and two young children. He declined to give his last name.

Just seven weeks after being deported he slipped back into California through the gritty border city of Tijuana, using border crossing documents widely available on the black market.

"My children were crying, my wife's heart was broken. What could I do in Mexico without my family?" he said of his decision to break the law and return to Los Angeles, where he owns a house.

RESUMING THEIR LIVES Earlier this year the U.S. Congress rejected comprehensive immigration reform allowing many illegal immigrants a path out of the shadows.

The government has since ramped up workplace enforcement, netting more than 160 workers in a raid on a poultry plant in Ohio in August.

Once back in the United States, previously deported immigrants often resume their lives. Demetrio waits tables in the same Los Angeles restaurant he previously worked, while Mari is back in her family's home in Phoenix.

Reunited with their spouses and children, many of whom were born in the United States and know no other home, the repeated law breakers weigh their diminishing options in the wake of Arellano's deportation, and as a crackdown announced by the U.S. the Department of Homeland Security gathers pace.

"I am waiting for the chance to one day become legal, but from what I can see there is little hope, and I can see all the doors closing," said Demetrio, adding that he is thinking of returning to Mexico if he sees no future in the United States.

Others like Mari and Samuel, trapped between the Central American nation they were born and the United States where they raised three children, remain fearful but still defiant.

"Every car that pulls up outside the house makes me nervous," said Mari, sitting behind drawn curtains in the home where she was arrested by ICE agents three years ago.

"But instead of crushing us, it is only making us more determined to stay."

(additional reporting by Adriana Garcia in Washington)

Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited

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