Life after deportation: What it's like to start over in a country you barely know

Life after deportation: A stranger in Mexico
Life after deportation: A stranger in Mexico

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Life after deportation: A stranger in Mexico 02:35

Story highlights

  • Jorge Matadamas, 23, has lived in the United States since he was 4 years old
  • After being deported earlier this month, he's building a new life in a country he barely knows

Mexico City (CNN)Jorge Matadamas is a Mexican citizen, but at 23 years old, everything about the country is brand new to him.

From the time he was 4 years old, when he says his undocumented parents took him across the border into the United States, he lived in Phoenix. "I had lived there for so long that I considered it my home," he said.
Then, on March 7, he was deported.
Now he's living with his uncle and aunt in La Paz, a suburb about an hour and a half drive from the center of Mexico City.
The house, considered to be middle-class in the area, is small compared to the one where he grew up in the United States. His aunt runs a "deposito," or small snack and soda shop, attached to the front of the property.
Jorge Matadamas
"The first couple of days I think were the hardest," he said, "because they were the most emotional for actually realizing that I am not going to go back (to America) anytime soon."
"I didn't show it, but I was homesick."
When it comes to speaking Spanish, Matadamas can generally hold his own in a conversation, he said. He usually has to think of what he is going to say in English first, then translate it in his head.
But he speaks what is often called "Pocho," an unflattering term for Americanized Spanish, and a word that's used to describe Mexicans who have lost their culture.
Matadamas' aunt and uncle's house in La Paz. The "deposito" can be seen out front.

'They return without knowing their country'

As the national director of Somos Mexicanos, created by Mexico's immigration department three years ago to help repatriate Mexicans deported from the United States, Dalia Gabriela Garcia Acoltzi said she has seen thousands of people like Matadamas.
"They return speaking better English than Spanish," she said. "They return to Mexico without knowing their own country. They may know they were born here but that is about all they know."
Her organization helps them get proper identification, any required medical attention, and advises them about the various government programs that can assist them as they reassimilate into Mexico.
She said their knowledge of English is actually a great strength. "We are going to need better English teachers," Acoltzi said. "Who better than a Mexican citizen who has learned it as their native language?"
While a few become teachers, she said most get their first jobs at one of the many English call centers in Mexico, or work in the tourist industries that cater to Americans.
Acoltzi said she has seen a decrease in the number of people coming to her agency compared to this time last year. But President Donald Trump's recent executive orders broadening immigration officers' enforcement authority, coupled with his rhetoric about taking a tougher line on unauthorized immigration, have sparked fears among immigrant communities that deportations will rise -- and that more people who have largely known the United States as home will find themselves in Matadamas' situation.

A chance to stay legally, lost after arrest

Matadamas entered the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program in 2014, a measure that granted protections and work privileges to about 750,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
But last August, police stopped and arrested him for drunk driving.
"It was a stupid thing to do, and I made a mistake," Matadamas said, saying he takes responsibility for his actions.
Before that incident, he said he had never broken the law, other than getting a few traffic tickets.
Matadamas spent a month in the county jail before he was able to bond out. But before he was able to leave, ICE officials detained him.
He spent six months in an ICE detention center in Eloy, Arizona. While he was there, he married his longtime girlfriend, Iman, who is a US citizen and still living in Phoenix. But the criminal charges will keep his new wife from being able to petition for Matadamas' citizenship.
After his appeal to the deportation judge was denied, he was bused over the border into the Mexican town of Nogales.
It began to sink in then that Mexico was a foreign country for him in every sense of the word. "I'm actually leaving what I thought home was at one point in life, and going to a complete new country that I had never seen or been to," he said. "It was kinda frightening."
Matadamas has two younger brothers, both US citizens, who still live in Phoenix with his mother and stepfather. The middle brother, who is 18 years old, was able to bring him his clothes and personal items before he was taken over the border.
He only had $120 in his pocket when ICE dropped him off in Nogales. He used some of it to rent a hotel room that first night, before family members were able to get there and bring him back to Mexico City.
Matadamas said he is very appreciative of the small bedroom his aunt and uncle gave him, and wants to furnish the room more when he can. For now the room just contains a bed and a side chair doubling as a nightstand. Along one wall are cardboard boxes filled with supplies that his aunt uses for her business.
"I'm very grateful to them," he said. "They didn't have to take me into their home. They really treated me like one of their own. So I really just want to say thank you."

Getting a job

Matadamas, left, and his cousin, Daniel Velasco,  eating at a taco stand.
Last Friday, Matadamas and his 28-year-old cousin, Daniel Velasco, visited another organization that may be able to help Matadamas find a job.
They walked through the Zòcalo, the square that is at the heart, physically and culturally, of the sprawling capital city. Thousands of locals and tourists crowded the open square; a large Mexican flag flew above their heads.
With Velasco sometimes acting as his translator, they stopped by an organization called Sederec, which helps repatriated Mexicans and newly arrived immigrants connect with employers and sometimes provides financial help for transportation costs during the job search.
Matadamas said he hopes his knowledge of English will be a skill he can market to potential employers.
In the United States, he had been working toward a managerial position at a restaurant chain, and said it would be an easy transition into a similar role here. Eventually, he said, he'd like to run or own a business.
"Perhaps with my cousin Daniel," who has a business degree, he said.
In the next few weeks Somos Mexicanos will bring Matadamas back in to interview with hotel representatives who are coming in from the Cancun area.
He said he could also see making a career in the hospitality industry and is looking forward to the appointment.
"I hope in a few years I can have a manager position," he said.

Looking to the future

The La Paz neighborhood where  Matadamas' family lives.
Matadamas said that despite initially feeling down, he decided not to "beat himself up" about what has happened to him. He said he wants to use the experience to help him mature and stay out of trouble, and is determined to remain upbeat and positive despite the changes and the challenges ahead.
"I just have to be strong and keep my head up," he said.
He's hoping his wife will visit in April and see if she can adapt to living in Mexico.
"She wants to come and have the struggle with me," he said.
Matadamas has also been trying to come back to the United States. He said he and his mother have applied for U-Visas, usually given to people who can prove they were a victim of crime or abuse. He claims that both were physically abused by his late father.
But that process can take two to four years, and there is no guarantee he will receive a visa. In the meantime, Matadamas said he knows that Mexico will be his home while he waits, and that he is going to have to make it work here.
"It's not what I had in mind when I was thinking about my future," he said. "But things happen for a reason."
While he misses his family and wants to visit them at some point, he's aware that getting back to the United States will be tough. With his criminal record, getting a tourist visa to visit his family would be difficult to impossible. Both his mother and stepfather are undocumented and unlikely to take the risk of coming to Mexico. The threat of not being allowed back into the United States is too great.
He also concedes that if he can get a good job and make a good living here, he might abandon his attempts to go back.
"I had a really good life back in the United States," he said. "I had my family. I had all the stuff a normal American would. Now that I'm here, why not accomplish those goals here? It might be a little hard at first, but anything is possible."