Framework

Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

Deportees carrying personal items in boxes provided by U.S. authorities file across the Gateway International Bridge over the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas. They will soon be warned by Groupo Beta, the Mexican migrant safety force, about dangers they are about to face.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Deportees file across the Gateway International Bridge over the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Rodrigo Barragon, left, and Carlos Valdivia Nunez stand in the central bus station. Valdivia said about criminal gangs who prey on deportees here, "They're like the wolves and we're the sheep. If you leave the herd, they go and attack. You can't wander off." Valdivia worked as a day laborer in Huntington Beach and Barragon was a construction worker in Los Angeles before they were deported.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Outside the central bus station, three deportees eye a tattooed young man in baggy shorts and clean shoes. Later, several migrants identified him as a gangster on the watch for potential kidnap victims. Migrants with deep ties to the U.S. are often considered valuable targets for criminal gangs.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Men who were just deported from Brownsville, Texas, listen to a safety briefing. Clutching the few personal items they had when arrested by U.S. authorities, the deportees are largely on their own in this lawless border city of 450,000.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Deportees squeeze into a pickup truck in for a ride to the central bus station. Anxiety shows on their faces as a Grupo Beta safety officer warns that they will be targets for kidnappers.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Rodrigo Barragon, 35, takes an uncertain look around the central bus station. Two days earlier, he was here with a group of 19 other deportees who ran away from gang members, fearing they would be kidnapped.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Deportees wait quietly in line at the border to register with Mexican authorities. Each will receive a sandwich from a local church group. Most have left behind family, friends and jobs in the United States.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

A man rests in his bunk in the men's dormitory of a church-run migrant shelter. Without air conditioning, fans do little more than circulate the hot, smelly air.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

A man rests on the floor of the church-run shelter. His legs are dotted with insect bites, his feet severely blistered. He was kidnapped by gunmen and shared the back seat of a car with the body of a man who had been tortured to death. Days later he was released after convincing his captors that he was not a rival cartel member. He walked barefoot for two days and nights through the desert to reach the shelter.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Razor wire tops the chain-link fence around the church-run migrant shelter. Fifteen deportees were dragged away from here at gunpoint on Christmas Eve. Serafin Salazar, a former car mechanic from El Monte, said, "I feel like something bad can happen at any time."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

In a shady spot next to an elementary school, a man empties a huge tank of gasoline that was stolen from a Pemex supply pipeline. The bootleg gas will be sold to drivers here at the curbside.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Trucks carrying Mexican Federal Police ride through the city. The municipal police force has been disbanded, and government troops have limited control of streets and highways. The Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which borders Texas, is a major battleground between the Gulf Cartel and the paramilitary-style Zetas.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Deported men and women pray before the evening meal at the church-operated migrant shelter. Late last year, 15 men were dragged from this dining room by armed gunmen. Their fates are unknown.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

The sun sets behind the razor-wire-topped fence that is meant to protect migrants at the church-run shelter from criminal gangs.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

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Mexican deportees face a dangerous future

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Mexican deportees face a dangerous future

MATAMOROS, MEXICO — They stuck together, walking slowly on busted sidewalks, approaching corners warily. They hurried past smoky taco stands and fleabag hotels. Nobody strayed.

Deported from Southern California the night before, the 20 men just wanted to get out of town after a fitful night’s sleep at the bus station of this sweltering border city.

“We were moving as one, like a ball,” said Rodrigo Barragon, 35, a former construction worker from Los Angeles. “But when I looked back, the ball had a tail.”

Five men were following them. Up ahead, three vehicles screeched to a stop, blocking their way down Avenida Washington. The migrants scattered, tearing down streets and alleyways, clutching small bags that held their belongings.

Hours later, they straggled through the door of the Diocese of Matamoros migrant shelter, beneath an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. A plaque beside the entryway bore a dedication: “To the 72 migrants and to those we know nothing about,” men and women who were massacred or who simply disappeared.

See Richard Marosi’s story: Deportees to Mexico’s Tamaulipas preyed upon by gangs

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