MEXICO CITY – Mexico is starting to seriously contemplate the possibility that millions of its migrants could be deported, and the picture is not pretty.
Under proposals put forward by President-elect Donald Trump, Mexico could see millions of people streaming back with no jobs available; the country might lose some of the billions of dollars in remittances sent home annually; and some jobless deportees could swell the ranks of drug cartels, sparking more violence.
Gov. Hector Astudillo of the southern state of Guerrero considered the possible scenario over the weekend. At least a million Guerrero residents live in the United States, many without proper documents, and the state is already reeling from drug gang violence and poverty.
"Of course Guerrero is not in any condition to receive the million or more than one million migrants" in the U.S., Astudillo said. "On the contrary, they have been an important mainstay in supporting the economy of Guerrero."
Migrants sent home almost $25 billion in remittances to Mexico in 2015, and experts say most of that went to support the most basic needs of the poorest Mexicans. Trump has suggested he might somehow seize the funds of those immigrants who are not deported to pay for a border wall.
Mexico already has a shortfall of 800,000 new jobs for youths who join the labor force each year, let alone returning migrants, said Alejandra Barrales, head of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party. "We need to close ranks and create (job) opportunities, not just for people who might be deported, but for the 1.2 million young people who join the labor market each year."
The federal government announced an emergency program this week aimed at encouraging business to hire returning migrants, but Mexico City teacher Armando Osorio doubted that would be enough, given the government's poor track record on job creation. "These people have no moral authority to say they will receive their countrymen with open arms," he said. "They are the ones who are mainly responsible for the forced exodus of millions of Mexicans who don't have enough to eat."
Even if Trump seems to be walking back the idea of mass deportations, the prospect still remains frightening for people in Mexico.
On Sunday, Trump said in an interview on the news program "60 Minutes" that "what we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, a lot of these people — probably two million, it could be three million — and getting them out of our country."
Central America's violent gangs, known as "maras," emerged in the 1980s when migrants who had fled El Salvador's civil war were deported by the U.S. after committing crimes as members of street gangs in Los Angeles. The deportees took their criminal knowhow back with them and started new gangs.
The U.S. government in 2012 estimated about 1.9 million immigrants were criminals and could face deportation. The Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, estimated 820,000 of those are in the United States illegally.
Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said at least some deportees will likely embrace drug trafficking, using already established U.S. connections to increase the amount of heroin and other drugs sent across the border. Even deporting only the felons would backfire by causing more violence in Mexico and Central America, he said.
"What's going to happen is that these individuals are going to return back to Mexico and they have no jobs, so they are going to feed the ranks of the cartels there," said Vigil, author of the book "Metal Coffins: The Blood Alliance Cartel."
"That would lead to more violence, kidnappings in Mexico, and these areas (of Central America), which would cause a tsunami of undocumented immigrants coming into the United States, probably much more so than what he could actually deport," Vigil said.
There are cases of deported migrants assuming leadership positions in the region's gangs, such as Martin Estrada Luna, a high school dropout from Washington state with a rap sheet of petty crimes such as burglary. Two years after he was sent back to Mexico in 2009, he had transformed himself into a drug baron known as "El Kilo," leader of a ruthless cell of the Zetas gang who masterminded the mass killings of more than 250 people.
While millions of migrants in the United States illegally could ultimately face deportation, the process to find and deport all of them likely won't happen rapidly.
Once in office, Trump could move to have immigration agents quickly start arresting people already under orders to leave for being in the U.S. illegally. There were about 88,000 people in that category as of 2015.
But for immigrants with no criminal history, the wait for a judge's final deportation order could take years. There are about 521,000 cases pending in federal immigration courts currently, according to public data obtained by Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
Even in Mexico, many believe Trump will have to moderate his plans.
"Political reality will make it clear that many of the proposals against Mexicans are simply not feasible, neither the deportation of all undocumented migrants, nor the construction of the wall," the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico City wrote in an editorial.