Apprehended while trying to cross the border in Arizona, Hicer said that he wasn’t sure where he would be going next, but that he feared for his life if returned to Guatemala.
“It’s hard,” said Juan Sebastián Tuil Mejía, a volunteer with the Association of Returned Guatemalans, a two-year-old organization. “I was deported a year and a half ago, and I still can’t find a job.”
With flights increasing each week, volunteers like Tuil Mejía provide welcome services to deported migrants. They’ll offer phones for the returnees to contact their families, give them maps and help them find transportation back to their communities.
Beyond these gestures, the returnees are mostly on their own. “Jobs are hard to come by here. … Most people who hire want you to have an education; in the United States I was able to work without having a formal education,” said Tuil Mejía, who worked in construction and gardening in the Los Angeles area. He lived there over 30 years before being deported.
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“It’s been really difficult,” he said. His wife and six children, aged 7 to 32, remain in California, he said, and although they speak often by phone or video, “to be away from them, that’s probably the most difficult thing.”
'There is nothing for us here'
Guatemala has a high rate of unemployment and underemployment. Only three of 10 Guatemalans have a formal job. In addition, almost half of the population is under 19, and experts estimate that 140,000 young people enter the labor market every year, but only two of 10 will find work in the formal sector.
“We went to try to complete our dreams,” Tuil Mejía said of why he went to the U.S. “When they send everybody back, they send them to … the same situation where they started. There is nothing for us here.”
In October 2009, the Guatemalan government approved funding for a new agency to “protect, support and provide assistance to Guatemalan migrants and their families.” The Consejo Nacional de Atención al Migrante en Guatemala, the National Council on Immigration, has put together a number of programs to help integrate returning Guatemalans into society. This includes a jobs database and the welcoming program for returnees.