When one thinks of migration, a very specific image comes to mind, often that of a man walking across the desert to reach the United States, or an image of what has been inadequately called ‘caravans’. However, there is another type of migration that is often less visible: return migration. In Mexico, return migrants like myself have been ignored by the government. This is due to a lack of adequate quantitative and qualitative information about us and a lack of political interest. Advances in the identification and visibility of the limited rights of returnees and deportees are products of the work of grassroots organisations mostly led by returnee and deported women. The purpose of this article is to contribute to the visibility of my community by briefly discussing who the return migrant community is, the obstacles that we face, and the origins of the grassroots organisation Otros Dreams en Acción (ODA).
Who is the return migrant community in Mexico? Return migrants are people who have migrated from their country of birth, have lived with precarious status in a country of destination for a prolonged period of time or all of their lives, and are now back to their country of birth. Return migrants can be either deportees or returnees, depending on the situation of return. A deportee is a person who went through formal deportation, because they had an order of removal or they signed what is called a voluntary departure. In both cases, there is a direct and particular interaction with US immigration authorities. This does not mean that there is or was also an interaction with criminal law; contrary to popular belief, many deported migrants never faced any criminal charges. Deportation occurs solely because a person lacks ‘legal’ status, which is at its origin a breach of administrative law, though the constant criminalisation of people of color and the criminalisation of migration would have you believe otherwise.
This criminalisation of migration also affects returnees. Returnees are people who, without having lived through a particular and specific process with immigration agents or law, were forced to make a choice to return due to systemic violence, criminalisation, and lack of access to basic rights. Many returnees decided to return because of the deportation of a family member and/or the constant fear of being deported themselves.
Otros Dreams en Acción or ODA is a grassroots organisation based in Mexico City that offers accompaniment in the access to the basic rights of return migrants and also offers a safe space called Poch@ House for cultural community resistance. The terminology used in this article is the one used by ODA. These particular terms are used mostly in academic and government spaces, and there are different terms used by the community to identify ourselves.
ODA mainly accompanies people originally born in Mexico, who lived undocumented in the USA and are now back in Mexico due to deportation or forced return. Even though we are physically located in Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, we also take cases from all over the country. As a community who found each other thanks to ODA, our main concern is to accompany other returnees and deportees so that their return is easier than ours.
Despite being Mexican nationals, return migrants are often undocumented upon return to Mexico too. The bureaucratic processes and lack of public policy in favour of my community make it nearly impossible for return migrants to easily access identity documents. One of the biggest problems is that the universally accepted form of ID in Mexico is a voter ID called INE, which is not designed to guarantee the right to an identity but rather to be a political instrument. This causes obstacles such as a rule put in place during elections that inhibits people from obtaining an INE to prevent voter fraud. As a result, returnees and deportees that have arrived in Mexico after February and did not have an INE before will not be able to apply for an INE until after the June elections of the same year. This means that returnees live almost half a year without an identity document. The lack of an INE means that returnees cannot access basic rights like healthcare, education, formal employment, internal mobility and housing. In worst-case scenarios, return migrants can be forced into homelessness. This is just one of the many systemic problems that the community faces, as well as family separation, trauma, discrimination and violence, which ODA tries to confront. It is therefore interesting to learn how this organisation that has now become a community emerged.
ODA’s story begins in 2014 with a book called Los Otros Dreamers ('The Other Dreamers'). The book, by activist and academic Jill Anderson, is a collection of stories written by 26 young adults, about their experiences in the aftermath of deportation or forced return to Mexico after growing up in the US. This book became the seed for the organisation of the return migrant community in Mexico City. Once the coauthors found each other and realised that they were not alone, and not the only ones who had lived a forced return or deportation, they created a virtual network. Some of the book participants have since gained mobility to the US with tourist visas through invitations to American universities to talk about the book and their experiences. For the few lucky ones, this mobility meant the opportunity to see their families, even if only to visit.
This virtual network then became a collective. Finally, in 2017 Maggie Loredo (featured in the book and co-director of ODA) and Jill Anderson, fearing massive deportations and returns resulting from the election of Donald Trump, co-founded ODA and became a grassroots organisation in Mexico.
Los Otros Dreamers challenges the concept of the Dreamer, by including narratives of young people who had criminal records and were deported, contesting the definition of a Dreamer which demands that people be deemed extraordinary and perfect to be considered worthy of protection from deportation. Then, in naming the organisation Otros Dreams in Acción, the collective separated themselves from the term Dreamer altogether, acknowledging that the return migrant community is made up of more than just young adults who were taken to the US when they were young and have perfect English.
ODA is a community of returnees and deportees. We are people who are exiled from a place we once called home and have now found each other and organised. It is precisely this unity of the return and deported community that came together around ODA, the greatest accomplishment of this organisation. Now with other collectives and organisations of returnees and deportees all over Mexico and with organisations in the US, we are changing narratives.
All of us, together, are a community that accompanies each other in the constant search for access to basic rights. But we are also together in the constant fight for systemic change that breaks down borders. We denounce discrimination and borders that made us undocumented in the US and now undocumented in our country of birth. We fight for mobility to end family separation and community exile. Through translocal organising, mutual support, art and culture, we defy the narratives that have been established about us, without us. We are from here and we are from there. Somos de aquí y de allá and across all borders our community flourishes.
To find out more about ODA, please check out the video below and our launching forum.
Esmeralda Flores Marcial
Esmeralda Flores Marcial was first an undocumented migrant in the US and is now a return migrant in Mexico. As such she has firsthand experiences of the challenges migrants face, which has shaped her professional career. She is currently the Coordinator of Accompaniment at the grassroots organisation Otros Dreams en Acción (ODA). She is a graduate of the Faculty of Law of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and is working on her thesis. She has previously worked in places such as the Law Clinic of UNAM. She has also worked in LEDESER A.C., an organisation that specializes in LGBTQ+ rights.
Otros Dreams en Acción
Otros Dreams en Acción is an organisation dedicated to mutual support and political action for and by those who grew up in the United States and now find themselves in Mexico due to deportation, the deportation of a family member, or the threat of deportation.
In Spanish ‘ODA’ translates to ode, or a poem meant to be sung. We believe in the power of arts and culture to learn from one another and to tell our stories from the inside out. We believe in our potential as a community to make positive change in the aftermath of deportation and exile. We believe in our right to be from two countries, to belong aquí y allá.