Sara Camarillos, 41, picks out clothes at the Aid Center for Deported Migrants in Nogales, Sonora. She arrived without her backpack, which had her ID and 300 pesos, about $20, phone numbers and a memory card with pictures of her children.
NOGALES, Sonora — Sara Camarillos arrived here more than a week ago, without a dime in her pocket and no official identification.
The 41-year-old tried to cross the border illegally through Altar but was caught by the Border Patrol. She carried a backpack with a change of clothes, her Mexican voter ID, about $20 in pesos, a camera card with pictures of her children and a piece of paper listing her relatives’ phone numbers.
For someone who lives off subsistence farming, that $20 can mean getting back home safely.
Camarillos said she was transferred about five times in the 11 days she was detained. She’s not sure where because she can’t read or write.
She said she never got a list of what she was carrying the day she was apprehended.
“When they were going to deport me I asked about my things and I was told I would get them before I was sent back,” she said Tuesday from the Aid Center for Deported Migrants.
And when she was dropped off at the port of entry, she said, she was told her consulate would help her.
She never got her belongings.
Camarillos’ story is a common one, especially among those who go through multiple detention centers or those criminally prosecuted and serve more than 30-day sentences, a local immigrant rights group said.
Through a report titled “Shakedown,” set to be released today, No More Deaths members said they want to shed light on a problem that is largely invisible to most people in the United States, but one that hugely impacts migrants when they are most vulnerable.
People need their IDs to get money, to identify themselves to local police and to get a job.
Without an official identification, the risk of extortion and kidnapping increases drastically, the report said.
About a third of immigrants interviewed for a 2013 University of Arizona report said they didn’t get back at least one item of their belongings when they were deported.
Using a database of nearly 1,500 cases of people detained in Arizona, and 165 in-depth interviews with migrants who reported missing money, the group found people were separated from belongings when:
- officers failed to return money or belongings,
- cash was returned in forms difficult or impossible to use outside the U.S.
- and, in a few cases, officers or agents kept the money.
There is no single process to ensure the belongings of a migrant stay with the person throughout the chain of custody.
Someone may be apprehended by the Border Patrol, transferred to the U.S. Marshals to go through federal court proceedings, then to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which then contracts with private companies or counties to house the immigrants before they’re returned to the border.
In general, the Border Patrol holds personal belongings for 30 days after a person’s detention.
In Tucson, No More Deaths said, they hold them for 30 days after the person is released. The sector headquarters has six bins full of personal items, the group said.
Locally, a bus is also supposed to stop by the Tucson Border Patrol station before immigrants are deported, so they can reclaim their belongings.
The problem, the report said, is that it’s inconsistent and doesn’t help those who are taken to other states to serve their sentences, which is common.
The Border Patrol did not respond to a request for comment before deadline last night.
Besides people being deported without identifications or cellphones, the No More Deaths report found many cases involved receiving money back in checks or prepaid cards, orwhich can’t be used outside the United States.
The group San Toribio Romo Migrante is now helping immigrants in that situation out of the migrant aid center in Nogales, Sonora.
Fidel Diaz, 33, said he had a check for $50 from money he had earned and his family deposited while he was serving a year in prison for smuggling marijuana.
Diaz, who had a border-crosser card, was caught at a checkpoint in Southern Arizona. He also had his Mexican voting ID card, about $80 and some pesos that he said he never got back.
He was transferred multiples times and is not sure where his belongings got lost. At one point, he was asked to sign a document itemizing his property, but he said he never saw it.
“The check they give you is useless here,” he said outside the migrant center. “No exchange house will cash it for you, if it wasn’t for the people here, I don’t know what I would do.”
With the $50, he is hoping to get back to his home in Caborca, Sonora.
David Hill, coordinator of the Property Recovery Assistance Project who volunteers at the migrant aid center, said he sees people daily who are missing personal items.
They try to be more proactive and reach out to people while they are still detained, either through their attorneys or word of mouth, he said. That’s because it gives the migrants a better chance of getting their stuff back. Otherwise, it might be a matter of mailing it back to their hometowns, sometimes weeks later.
The unfortunate thing with the group’s efforts, he said, is that it can’t be a substitute for what needs to happen, which is making sure people have their money and belongings when they get deported and need them the most.
In the last three years, the Mexican Consulate in Tucson has recovered and returned more than 5,000 belongings, said consul Ricardo Pineda.
“People who are detained for short periods of time are usually repatriated with their belongings,” he said, “It’s those who serve a sentence, they have 30 days to reclaim them, but a lot of times don’t do it because they aren’t aware they have that option.”
The consulate specifically asks people they visit in court or those in custody about their belongings and tries to get the word out that they can help, he said.
Ideally, all migrants would be deported with their belongings, he said, but he also realizes how complicated the process gets when it involves multiple agencies at different levels.
There’s still more work to be done, he said.
Among No More Deaths’ recommendations is a request to allow immigrant detainees’ belongings and money follow them to the end of their chain custody if they are targeted for eventual deportation by ICE. Ideally, detainees would be given an opportunity to convert their commissary funds to cash before deportation.
Meanwhile, Camarillos is stuck trying to figure out when she can get her ID and money back.
On Tuesday, Camarillos picked out some donated pants, shirts and a hat, giving her a fresh change of clothes. She stays at a women’s shelter and eats two meals a day at the migrant center, a program of the binational Kino Border Initiative.
She hopes the Mexican consulate will help her return to her home state of Guerrero.
“You can’t do anything without an ID,” Camarillos said.