The deportation processes in the United States have brought as a consequence that members of the gang “Mara Salvatrucha” are regrouping in Tijuana, living in secrecy due to the fear of being deported to Central America.
Mexican authorities confirmed that in the last few years, there has been an increasing presence of gang members from “La Mara” and the Mexican Mafia, that during the civil war in El Salvador, emigrated to Los Angeles, California.
A “Mara” who has been deported lives in limbo: he cannot go back to the United States, and he can't go to El Salvador due to the war that is going on between gangs; some are sick and destined to live in Tijuana, in the darkness of small wooden homes.
Jose Perez, as he decided to call himself to conserve anonymity, is a “Marero” since he can remember. He tells that around 1992 he decided to emigrate to Los Angeles, his desire was to reunite with other Salvadorans in the “Mara” neighborhood: “El Hoyo Maravilla”.
And he achieved it, he crossed the border through Mexicali and made it to San Diego, from there he took a bus directly to East L.A. “So many things happen in a journey that lasts 20 some odd days, days where you don't eat, days where you just have water, some days where you have neither and all you have is what's left of your drive, or a blessing, because you're being persecuted and you have to get out because there is too much poverty”.
He remembers with fond nostalgia that he worked in an auto paint and body shop, the problem is that he couldn't make rent, so he looked to other means to be able to survive. Selling drugs and stealing, “We used to steal to be able to help all the people that were coming from Central America”.
The 44 year old gang member was deported 3 years ago. Never did anyone ask him or any of the other Mareros if they wanted to be deported to El Salvador. They were sent straight to Tijuana. He says that if they cannot fill up a bus they leave you in San Diego and later on they deport you.
The tattoos on his skin, the tears on his eyes, all traces of the MS: Mara Salvatrucha, all these marks on his arms and back have made Jose as well as other Mareros, be destined to travel about at night; during the day they live in houses near the edge of the Tijuana River.
And even though he confesses that he's already paid for his crimes in the United States, he still lives in incarceration, in four dire wooden walls. He's afraid that the neighbors will call mexican immigration police and that they get deported to El Salvador where they could be murdered due to past debts.
“The law will never find out that we're from Central America, we're mexicans and we've even learned part of the national anthem to protect ourselves, but there are mexicans that don't have any papers”, he confesses.
Jose “the Marero”, explains that he has hepatitis, however he has not been able to treat his illness, given that in Tijuana medical services are hard to receive because to get into a public hospital they ask you for nationality, age, name, address. "When you get out of the hospital there's the problem that they want some family member of yours go and pay, but sometimes, if you tell them you're from Central America, they'll deny you service".
In Tijuana it's very unlikely that a deported Salvadoran will be able to change his situation: they can only get jobs at dump yards or carrying dirt and rocks, and the work days are long and hard; they say that their employers take advantage of their migration status.
“I feel powerless to be discriminated, but I still have to survive”, says the “Marero” who will always be faithful to his gang, until the day he dies. He confesses that some of his Mara companions from the United States send them help every once in a while so they can make it through the day.
To be fair, the Mara Salvatrucha doesn't control Tijuana, they're merely regrouping to protect each other from the dangers of the street. Jose says that Mexico's Northern border is not too far from El Salvador, or even Los Angeles. The problems and dangers in the street are all the same.
Alberto Capella Ibarra, Secretary of Public Safety in Tijuana (SSPM) confirmed that even though there are no red lights, they have detected the presence of Maras Salvatrucha and the Mexican Mafia in Tijuana; gangs that started in the United States.
The SSPM has around 6,000 gang members registered in Tijuana, 80% of which are not from this region. According to Jose's estimate, there are around 500 Salvadorans that live in the city, 400 of them being a part of the Mara Salvatrucha.