Kidnapped by Cartels After Deportation
As in many of the country songs he loves so much, “Ricky M.’s” troubles started with a broken heart.
Ricky, who came to the United States from Mexico when he was 2 years old, says he fell into a depression after his girlfriend went off to college. He started smoking marijuana with a new set of friends. This was a change for Ricky. During his high school years, he avoided alcohol and drugs, focusing on his beloved soccer. As long as he stayed clean, his status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program was never imperiled.
In April 2015, one of his new friends gave him a few small bags of cocaine and urged him to try selling them, he said. They went into his backpack, he said, and when a Canyon Lake Park ranger smelled marijuana smoke on him and searched it, they were there, along with a marijuana cigarette.
That moment would lead to his deportation to a country he had never known, and deliver him into the hands of violent criminals. It almost cost him his life.
Speaking in September from deportee-reception center in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Ricky told his story to a Human Rights Watch researcher. Mexico was so unfamiliar to him, he said, that he felt like he’d been “spun off the face of the earth and set down on another planet.”
After his arrest, Ricky ended up pleading guilty to possession of marijuana and less than 14 grams (half an ounce) of cocaine “with intent to deliver,” a first-degree felony in Texas. He served 28 months of a five-year prison sentence, lost his DACA status, and was deported “for life” on August 17, 2017. Immigration agents gave him the usual red “deportee bag,” to hold the few possessions he was allowed to take with him, and he walked across the footbridge that joins Laredo, Texas, to Nuevo Laredo.
That’s when things got ugly.
Ricky caught a bus from downtown Nuevo Laredo to visit a sister in Piedras Negras, fell asleep, and was awakened with a flashlight in his eyes and a gun at his head. The gunman, who identified himself as a member of the Nuevo Laredo drug cartel, told Ricky he recognized him as a deportee by the red bag, and said the cartel in Piedras Negras would kill him if he didn’t have the right password. Then he dragged Ricky off the bus, beat him with a stick, and forced him to an apartment where six other deportees sat, terrified.
Ricky spent eight hungry days in that apartment, he said, waiting for his mother to send the cartel $3,500 – with an agreement to pay another $3,000 on Ricky’s safe arrival in San Antonio, Texas, a 144-mile, 47-hour walk from the border. Ricky didn’t want to go; he knew that he’d go back to prison for 29 months to complete his sentence, if caught, possibly spend time in immigration detention, and then be deported again for life. But the gangsters weren’t giving him a choice. To them, Ricky and the other captive deportees were cash cows.
The deportees waded the Rio Grande by moonlight with the gangsters’ guns at their backs, he said, dodged border patrol cars and helicopters in a forest for hours, moving from abandoned house to abandoned house, where other groups of captive migrants waited.
As the sun reached its peak on the first day out, Ricky’s group was abandoned by their guide, he said. They had no food and little water, he said, and they hadn’t eaten in days. One man began screaming, and Ricky found him covered in a thick layer of angry bees that detached themselves and swarmed Ricky. As the day grew hotter, Ricky ran out of water, he said, and the next thing he knew, he was being wakened by a Border Patrol officer. He had passed out by the side of a road. The officer revived him with an IV drip, he said, and – in an act for which Ricky said he will always be grateful – instead of feeding him back into the criminal justice system to complete his prison sentence, the officer drove him directly to the Laredo-Nuevo Laredo footbridge.
As Ricky told his story nearly two weeks later, his face, neck, and arms were still covered with bee-sting welts. But he managed a sad smile. “I guess I’m lucky to be alive and out of prison,” he said.