PUEBLA, Mexico – Fear and uncertainty have gripped the inhabitants of the small central Mexican town of Zoyatla, most of whom are elderly, since US President Donald Trump announced that massive raids will be carried out to round up undocumented migrants.
This community in the central state of Puebla stands out as a source of migrants bound for the United States since all of the families have relatives in the US, many of whom have lived there for decades.
The inhabitants of the town, whose habitual silences are interrupted by the singing of birds and the sporadic barking of dogs, typically have not seen their children in person for many years and often have never met their grandchildren face-to-face.
Their best ally is a cellphone that allows them to view their relatives on a digital screen.
But a new anguish has surfaced after Trump announced in June that the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a federal law-enforcement agency, will be carrying out raids aimed at deporting thousands of undocumented migrants.
One worried relative is Caritina Velez, who has not seen her children for 30 years because they have irregular status in the US.
She said they always have had to be wary of the immigration authorities but that that fear has been heightened recently as a result of Trump’s announcement.
“They tell me not to be afraid, that they’re fine. But who knows? They say, ‘mom, we’re fine. The (immigration agents) even pass by and don’t say anything to us.’ But I do have that fear that they’re not doing well and that something will happen to them because they don’t have papers,” she told EFE.
For his part, Jorge Nolasco Pacheco said entering US territory has become more complicated in recent years. “I came to visit my family and I couldn’t cross (back to the US). But my family is still there and I haven’t been able to see them.”
“I’ve had to reconcile myself to a new life in my community, but I talk with my relatives every day to know how they’re doing, because they’re living in fear that the (immigration authorities) will detain them. Even though they have permits, the fear is there because there are also others living illegally,” Nolasco added.
He said he hopes that mass deportations do not occur, adding that migrants are merely seeking a better life and a chance to support their families in Zoyatla and many other communities.
Emigration has taken a heavy toll on farming activity in Zoyatla and made local residents greatly dependent on remittances sent from abroad.
Those remittances, which are mainly sent by Mexicans living in the US, represent Mexico’s second largest source of hard currency after automobile exports and provide crucial income for millions of people.
Mexico received $13.7 billion in remittances in the first five months of 2019 from its nationals residing abroad, up 4.74 percent from the same period of 2018.
Zoyatla’s deputy mayor, Lucio Mendoza, told EFE that the community is home to just 900 families – each of whom has between one and six family members in the US – and that only elderly people live there.
“There are no children. There are no young people. Only when they visit us, but they come for a few days and then leave,” he lamented.
Trump’s announcement about raids is part of a broader strategy.
On Monday, his administration published a rule that makes migrants ineligible to seek asylum in the US if they have not first done so in a transit country.
The measure affects the vast majority of asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border, since they hail from Central America and pass through Mexico on their northbound journey.
In May, the US president threatened to impose escalating tariffs on all Mexican exports in the coming months (up to a level of 25 percent by October) if Mexico did not take aggressive steps to halt illegal immigration.
But he agreed to suspend that threat after a bilateral agreement was reached in which Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s administration vowed to crack down on migrant flows.
The steps taken by Mexico have included deploying thousands of members of a newly created National Guard force to its southern and northern borders to stem the tide of US-bound Central American migrants through its territory.