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Life after deportation

 February 3, 2023 at 5:00 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Debbie Cruz….it’s Friday, February third.

A look at life after deportation.

More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….


First Lady Jill Biden is in town.

She’s scheduled to visit a Family Health Centers clinic this afternoon to talk about efforts to improve access to cancer screenings in underserved communities.

And then, she’ll speak to military families at Naval Base San Diego.

There she’s expected to speak about her “Joining Forces” initiative, which helps military families with jobs, health care, child care, education and more.

Tomorrow, she will be visiting the Military Family Clinic at Veterans Village in Oceanside.


Earlier this week, six of the seven states that use water from the Colorado River, agreed on a plan to cut back on water use.

California was the lone holdout and submitted its own proposal.

But, neither plan saves the amount of water the feds say is needed.

The plans come as the Bureau of Reclamation is looking for new ways to prop up the nation’s largest reservoirs.

Climate change is shrinking supplies, and states have been deadlocked over plans to reduce demand.

The Bureau is expected to release its plan in the spring.


S-D-G-AND-E customers are getting some financial help from the California Public Utilities commission.

Regulators yesterday approved moving a natural gas and electricity climate credit from later in the year to this month.

S-D-G-AND-E says that takes 104-dollars off a gas and electric customer’s bill.

While natural gas rates are down from last month, they are still higher than they were in December.

And the sting of high prices is exacerbated by colder weather, which means people are using more.


From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need.


The U-S deports roughly 300-thousand people each year.

And most people never get a chance to legally re-enter the U-S after being deported.

Those who do, often find themselves stuck in a precarious limbo.

KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis spoke with several former deportees about their transition back to life in the U-S.

Yolanda Varona was detained and deported in 2011 for working without legal authorization. In an instant, she was forced to leave behind her two  young children in San Diego. Varona was finally allowed to return in June 2022. We met her in San Ysidro just as she crossed the border. Our interview was cut short when she saw her daughter. .. and hugged her  for the first time in nearly 12 years. “Esperame, esperamen. Mi amor no importa! Linda precioca!” Hold on, hold on. Mi love!” A few months later, we caught up with Varona  at her home in San Diego. She was still in a state of joy over her reunification with her children. “Para mi, esto es lo mas maravilloso poder besar a mis hijos. Y sentirlos, algo que me fue negado por 11 anos y medio, que se me arrebato de un momento a otro.” For me, the most marvelous thing is to be able to kiss my children. To hug them, things that were denied to me for 11 and a half years, that were taken from me in an instant. Varona is grateful to be back. She lives with her husband, Hector Bajaras – also a former deportee. But their return hasn’t been what they expected. “estabamos, estabamos sin casa.  Estabamos homeless, como gente que no tiene donde vivir porque esa fue una realidad. Y pues bueno ahorita estamos disfrutando de esta patiosito, de esta casita.” We didn’t have a house. We were homeless, like people who don’t have a place to live. That was our reality. And now we are grateful for this little patio and casita.” She says landlords refused to rent them because they had no credit history. They eventually got housing through Barajas’ military benefits. It’s unclear how many formerly deported people are allowed to return to the U.S .KPBS asked multiple federal agencies –none of them said that they track this data. Robert Irwin is a professor at UC Davis. In 2017, he helped start the Humanizing Deportation project in 2017. It was just after a record number of deportations during the Obama administration and while former President Donald Trump was regularly demonizing immigrants . UC DAVIS GUY People imagine that they were just criminals, or they were people who could easily readjust to life in Mexico or wherever they were going because that’s where they were from. In reality, many consider the U.S. their home. Jack Aviles was brought here when he was six months old. He grew up in San Diego and joined the Marines. Then in 2001 he was deported after being charged with possessing unregistered firearms. He was allowed to return in 2019. But the shadow of deportation has stayed with him. “I had to work, I had to get my social, I had to establish credit, I had to rent, I had to pay bills, so all that, yea we got to return home but we didn’t have opportunities. Aviles lives in fear of being deported again. He says he mostly keeps to himself, avoids big crowds, and does everything he can to stay out of trouble – even when he’s just walking across the street. “I think about crossing the street, am I jay walking, am I not? Literally, that’s how I’m very very paranoid because I don’t want to ruin it.” Family members aren’t spared from the  trauma of deportation. Michael Paulsen became a single father to three young boys when his wife, Emma Sanchez, was deported in 2006. “I held a fulltime job, a part time job and I used to take the kids to Mexico on the weekend. It’s very hard. A lot of stress, a lot of financial burdens. You got two rents, two households to stock for food.” During the decade-long separation, Sanchez dreamed of the day when her family would be reunited. “Nosotros no se, como que estamos destinados a seguir sufriendo. Porque tienes toda esa Esperanza y esa emoccion de volver. Y llegas y no es lo que esperabas. Yo, en mi caso no recibo mis hijos como yo recordaba.”It feels like we are destined to continue to suffer. Because you have this hope and optimism of coming back. But you get here and it isn’t what you expected. In my case, my children grew up.” Algunas son repetidas, aqui estaba llorando cunado me estaba dando la bendicion mi mama. To ease her pain, Sanchez often goes through hundreds of old family photos she keeps in boxes. They remind her of happy times – but also of what could have been. Gustavo Solis, KPBS News.

Most deportees don’t get a chance to come back to the U-S legally.

KPBS reporter Gustavo Solis also spoke to several people in Tijuana about life after deportation.

Ivan Hernandez works at a call center in TJ. He likes the job because it makes him feel at home. “It’s nice because you get to surround with people who are like you. Talking in English and having fun with people that can understand you that have been over in the states.” Hernandez is a Mexican national who was brought to the U.S. as an infant. He grew up undocumented near Las Vegas. Most people hang up right away. But every once in a while, he gets a friendly customer. He’s especially excited what it’s a fellow motorhead. “There was this one time I had a phone call and it was nice because he was revving an engine. I was like, oh what kind of engine is that. That’s such and such, I was like wow I had a car similar to that.” Hernandez hadn’t planned on working in Mexican call centers. But when he reached adulthood in the U.S., he realized that he had no hope of getting a legal work permit. So, in 2011,he decided to self deport back to Mexico. It was either that or spend his life in the shadows. He’s not alone among his colleagues at the call center. These jobs  have become landing spots for deportees. Their English skills are an asset and wages are three times more than factory work. Daniel Ruiz started working in a call center 20 years ago. Now he owns one. Most of his employees are deportees. He knows exactly what they’re going through – because it happened to him. “It was a whole new culture to me. Cause I was taken over there as a baby, so I never lived in Mexico. Coming back as an adult, it was a whole new culture. If they had put me in China, it would’ve been the same thing.” But even though it is their home country, deportees aren’t always accepted back into Mexican society. Ruiz says they are viewed as cholos or criminals. He says he  experienced discrimination while applying for a federal ID. “One of the guys that worked for the government says, ‘oh now you want to be Mexican.’ Where did that come from, I just want to get my license.” Call centers give deportees a refuge from this treatment. “Once you go into a call center and you see people that look like you, dress like you and talk like you and come from the same background. You feel at home, you feel more comfortable.” In some cases, they can give somebody a second chance. “I did 21 years in prison and that gave me a reality check. Now I come here and everything is new to me. Freedom. And I just live day-by-day. I do what’s right. This is Omar. He didn’t want to share his name because of the stigma of being a deportee. He says the job and friends he’s made through the call center help him stay busy and out of trouble. “I got lucky enough that I came to a friend’s house that helped me out. I stayed there for a month until I got my own place and little by little, I learned about the call centers.” Every deportee interviewed for this story still has family in the United States. Some of them are American citizens, while others remain undocumented. The holidays can be particularly hard. Again, Ruiz. “I miss my family. I wish I was able to go to birthday parties, Christmas, Thanksgiving, every time my family unties, they go for whatever party they are doing, they are always together and I am here. That pain is with every deportee. That’s the pain we all feel, that’s what unites us.” Ruiz co-founded a nonprofit called Border Line Crisis Center in 2016. It helps deportees find housing, jobs and get a government ID. His goal is to help them ease the pain he knows all too well. Gustavo Solis, KPBS News.


San Diego's premier rehab center for veterans is still under heavy scrutiny by lawmakers and oversight agencies.

inewsource investigative reporter Jill Castellano has this update.

"CASTELLANO: Veterans Village of San Diego is facing numerous government inquiries following inewsource’s investigation into health and safety issues at its rehab center. CASTELLANO: A California health care agency has eight investigations underway, and San Diego County officials still have an admissions freeze on new clients. That freeze has now lasted for six full months. SILVERMAN: It seems like a long time. CASTELLANO: That’s Scott Silverman, the CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient drug treatment program in San Diego. He said there are many challenges in the treatment industry, like staffing shortages and the opioid epidemic, but protecting the health and safety of clients is still necessary. SILVERMAN: You’re in the business to help save lives. If you don’t know how or you can’t do it anymore, you need to hand it off to somebody else. CASTELLANO: In recent months, Lawmakers have stepped in to help Veterans Village. Congressman Mike Levin and state Senator Toni Atkins said they’re monitoring the situation, speaking with stakeholders and hoping for a good resolution. CASTELLANO: Veterans Village leadership has said they continue to provide high quality care to their clients. CASTELLANO: For KPBS, I’m inewsource investigative reporter Jill Castellano."

inewsource is an independently funded, nonprofit partner of KPBS.


Coming up.... We have details on some weekend arts events worth checking out. We’ll have that and more, after the break.


The San Diego County Sheriff’s department last week released body camera footage from an incident that took place in 20-19 in Imperial Beach.

The video shows a deputy tasing Joe Young, a Black man who had come to a Sheriff’s D-U-I checkpoint to pick up his son, who’d been detained for being an unlicensed driver.

The taser hit a lighter in his pocket, starting a fire.

Deputies then stomped on the man to put the fire out, while restraining him.

Young was taken to the hospital for treatment.

The charges against him were later dropped.

The reason that we know about this incident and now are able to see the video is because of the work of the First Amendment Coalition.

Monica Price is a legal fellow with the Coalition.

She said the main focus of California Senate Bill 14-21 is to keep the public and law enforcement safe through transparency.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s an accident, it doesn’t matter you know if it was deliberate or not, if the incident resulted in a great bodily injury, those records should be released.”

Price said it’s important for records of incidents like this one to come out, so the public can see and decide if what happened is in line with department policy.


In Wednesday's State of the County address, Supervisor Nora Vargas spoke about efforts to improve the mental health of residents.

Here’s KPBS reporter Jacob Aere with more.

Vargas focused her speech on improving quality of life for San Diego families. She said part of that means helping people keep a roof over their heads and expanding mental health care. CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness San Diego Cathryn Nacario says that's especially important now as the need is great … and prevention is key. “The numbers used to be about one in five individuals would experience a mental health concern in any given year. That number looks like it’s dropping down to one in three coming out of the pandemic. So it's changed pretty significantly.” Vargas additionally discussed strengthening public safety, reducing food insecurity, expanding child care services and supporting small businesses during her state of the county address. Jacob Aere, KPBS News.


And before you go…

We have some recommendations from KPBS’s Julia Dixon Evans of weekend arts events to check out.

First – the San Diego Symphony will perform with violinist Jeff Thayer on Mozart's "Violin Concerto Number 3 in G Major.

It will be conducted by 22-year-old phenom, Tarmo Peltokoski.

They'll also play works by two Finnish composers.

This is a work by contemporary composer Kaija Saariahoki.

The performance starts at 7-30 tonight, at the Southwestern College Performing Arts Center in Chula Vista.

And if you want to check out some visual art… 'Electrification, Equity and Efficiency' is an ongoing series of events and workshops by six artists.

The events are part gallery exhibition and part community education initiative about electrification and the future of power.

It’s being held  every Saturday through February 18th.The group will hold free workshops, activities and art making.

Tomorrow’s event is an introduction to San Diego Community Power, and gardening with "Grid Gal."

It starts at noon, at Art Produce in North Park.

You can find more details about the arts events mentioned, and more, at kpbs-dot-org-slash-arts.


That’s it for the podcast today. This podcast is produced by KPBS Senior Producer Brooke Ruth and Producer Emilyn Mohebbi. We’d like to thank KPBS editor, Joe Guerin for helping out our team this week. As always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Debbie Cruz. Thanks for listening and have a great weekend.

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KPBS reporter Gustavo Solis brings you the stories of several people who have been deported from the U.S. In other news, San Diego's premier rehab center for veterans is still under heavy scrutiny by lawmakers and oversight agencies. Plus, we have details on some weekend arts events worth checking out.