by Jacqueline García. This article was originally published on La Opinión. To read the original article in Spanish, click here. || por Jacqueline García. Este artículo fue publicado originalmente en La Opinión. Para leer el artículo original en español, haga clic aquí.
Manuel Ramirez tried to endure the pain and discomfort while he was cleaning an open wound on his left knee on a Sunday afternoon in December. He said about two months prior he had surgery but hasn’t healed.
Quite the opposite, his knee was swollen and seemed to need medical care. However, Ramirez, 52, couldn’t ask for immediate care because he lives in a tent in a park in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico.
After 49 years of living in the United States—17 of them in prison—Ramirez was deported back to Mexico in 2016.
“I was 3 years old when my parents took me to the United States [illegally],” said Ramirez, speaking a perfect English. “We arrived to Whittier and then I moved to Arizona.”
Drying the tears he bravely tried to contain, Ramirez said he does not regret the crime he committed and if he was put on the same situation he would do it again.
“I killed my father-in-law because he was abusing my two daughters,” Ramirez said, pausing between sentences. “When I found out I went to the police, I tried to file a report and they did not listen to me,” he added, asserting that it was then when he took justice into his hands.
Unfortunately his daughters—now 34 and 29 years old—lost communication with him.
The native of Jalisco, Mexico said he was in several federal prisons in the United States. In one of those in 2008 some federal prison officers beat him until they fractured his knee. Eventually he had surgery, which required the insertion of metal plates.
Ten years later—once he was deported to Mexico—Ramirez hurt his knee again. He said he lived in a hotel in Tijuana and worked for a Call Center when he was beaten and robbed by some thieves.
He was taken to the hospital where he had a surgery again. However, the lack of shelter and no money for survival let Ramirez with the only option to recover on the streets of Tijuana.
“One day while I was passing by [a park], I saw there were many tents and I approached them and they gave me a place to stay here,” said Ramirez, who has been living in the outdoor shelter “Campamento Ángeles Sin Fronteras” (Angels Without Borders Camp) for over a month now.
A few tents away from Ramirez’, Antonio Nolasco was cleaning his tent. By his side his faithful dog Firulais stood patiently.
“I found him as a puppy, he was all malnourished and I threw him some food and since then he started following me,” said Nolasco, who’s native from Michoacán, Mexico. “I’ve been with him for a year and a half and he will not leave me. We have walked up to two or three hours [away] and he knows how to return home. He is my partner.”
Nolasco, 53, said he lived in Santa Ana, California with his wife and two children until 2009 when he was deported.
“They [immigration officers] arrived at work and deported several of us,” Nolasco said. “At first I tried to go back again but [immigration agents] caught me and said if I tried again they would lock me up for 10 to 20 years.”
Nolasco returned to his native Michoacán to see his parents but after a while he went back to Tijuana.
“My wife comes to visit me sometimes. My children do not. I do not want them to see me in this situation,” Nolasco said, assuring that his wife is an American citizen.
He works cleaning cars waiting to cross the line between the Tijuana/San Ysidro border.
Nolasco said that he predicts 2019 is his year. “I want to return to the United States. I am complying with the prohibition of 10 years and my wife will begin the process,” Nolasco said hopeful. “For me, the family is in first place and tranquility and work. I have always liked to work.”
Andrés Hernández, 68, is one of the main assistants of the organizers at the shelter. With notebook in hand he makes important notes such as the number of tents and people housed as well as new logistics of work that can be done in the near future.
Hernandez also has his tent in the shelter and has lived there since it was established in November.
“I lived in Los Angeles for 12 years and had an electronics workshop, there in 7th Street and Main,” said the native of the state Jalisco. “But in 1998 I was deported and I didn’t want to return to Guadalajara [Jalisco]. Here [in the north] are more opportunities,” he said.
Since then Hernandez has become a traveler without direction but with much positivism.
“I have an engineering degree from the University of Guadalajara,” he said. “I’m just waiting to obtain a loan to start a business here and have my repair shop again.”
Hernandez said he no longer sees a future in the United States where his wife and three children live but he rarely maintains communication with them.
The Campamento Ángeles Sin Fronteras was established in November and has about 250 tent houses, said Sergio Tamai, the camp organizer.
“This is a shelter that we installed without resources, everything is voluntary and we organize ourselves,” Tamai said. “There are approximately 500 men and women here but we know that if we organize it well we can house up to 800 people.”
Tamai said that people in the shelter live out of donations. Some men have the opportunity to get some jobs that help them pay some expenses.
He said that in the shelter there are all types of people: Mexicans fleeing the violence of their states, Central Americans, and mainly deportees from the U.S. whose only option is to stay in the outdoor shelter since they don’t want to go back to their native towns or don’t have relatives in Mexico.
Tamai said people in the shelter ask the Mexican government to allow them to obtain permits to work. Some options are washing cars and recycling so that they can be employed.
“We want the police to stop harassing them and [the government to] help them.” Tamai said.
This article was written with the support of a journalism fellowship from the Gerontological Society of America, Journalists Network on Generations and AARP.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.