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Deportees From The North, Migrants From The South Overwhelm Mexican Border City


When I travelled along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, I found people increasingly worried about growing tensions between the two countries. When NPR's John Burnett visited the Mexican border city of Reynosa, here's what he found.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: If the saying holds true that when the U.S. sneezes, Mexico catches a cold, then Reynosa has a bad case of the flu these days. Consider the nasty cartel war that's scaring tourists away, the surge of unemployed immigrants stranded in this frontier city and the general malaise brought on by Trump's Mexico bashing. One local entrepreneur has cashed in. Last year, Dalton Ramirez started selling Donald Trump pinata as fast as he could paste the red ties and yellow hair on them. During the campaign, it was Americans who bought them. Now that Trump is president...

DALTON RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

BURNETT: "It's the people over here who are asking for my Trump pinatas," says Ramirez. "They think he's making war on Mexicans. They see the pinata hanging in front of my shop, and they want to whack it."

This industrial city of 650,000 acutely feels the burden of Trump's aggressive immigration enforcement policies. The United States is deporting busloads of Mexicans and Central Americans who were in the country without permission, dumping them in Reynosa and other Mexican border cities, sometimes in the middle of the night. The director of A Traveler's Shelter (ph), Sister Maria Nidelvia, says Reynosa is no place for immigrants.

MARIA NIDELVIA: (Through interpreter) They're looking for a place to live. They're looking for work. They need food. They're insecure and poor. What are they to do?

BURNETT: Reynosa is dealing with an influx of deportees from the north and immigrants from the south. The city has traditionally been a popular staging ground for people coming from elsewhere in Mexico and Central America to jump the border into Texas. But that illegal traffic is slowing down. The Homeland Security Department reported last week that apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants on the southwest border dropped 40 percent from January to February, since Trump took office.

Migrants who made the long, dangerous trek to Reynosa find themselves in limbo. Antonio Herrera (ph) came all the way from La Ceiba, Honduras, with the intention of crossing illegally and finding work in the U.S. Now he's having second thoughts. He kills time, day after day, in an immigrant shelter on the south side of the Rio Grande.

ANTONIO HERRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

BURNETT: "Truthfully, we hope that God touches Mr. Trump's heart," Herrera says, adjusting his fedora, "and he gives us opportunity to come to the United States to work."

Could Trump's tough immigration stance be the harsh medicine that Mexico needs? Inside the downtown Zaragoza market, the president of the merchants association, Patricio Hernandez, congratulates Trump for forcing Mexico to face reality.

PATRICIO HERNANDEZ: (Through interpreter) I don't like Trump's politics. But there's a good side to everything. Trump is taking care of Americans. We have to take care of our house. The Mexican government should be concerned about the illegals who went to the U.S. and the lack of work here in Mexico. Trump is forcing us to be responsible for our own house.

BURNETT: Hernandez recently did his part by hiring an unemployed Mexican immigrant to work in his jewelry store, making keys.


BURNETT: Horacio Gutierrez is a husky 30-year-old who traveled here from southern Mexico, like many others, with the intention of using Reynosa as his departure point.

HORACIO GUTIERREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

BURNETT: "My plan was to go to the United States," he says. "But then this president came, and it's gotten tough for us. We're seeing he's deporting lots of people." So Gutierrez cuts keys in the marketplace, unable to send any money home to his family in Chiapas. But, he says with a wan smile, it's better to make less money here in Mexico and not live in fear of the immigration police. John Burnett, NPR News, Reynosa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Burnett
John Burnett is a national correspondent based in Austin, Texas, who has been assigned a new beat for 2022—Polarized America—to explore all facets of our politically and culturally divided nation. Prior to this assignment, Burnett covered immigration, Southwest border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.