MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, April 11th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: ministering to deportees.
In 2018, the U.S. deported more than 250,000 immigrants—either because they crossed the border illegally or because they committed crimes as green card holders. Back in their countries of origin, many face extortion by gangs, as well as lack of social or work connections, not to mention separation from family still in the United States.
REICHARD: WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg visited Tijuana, Mexico. She brings us the story of one deportee who is helping other deportees as they build a new life.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Just blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border, Daniel Ruiz runs a call center out of a small office building. In one room, eight employees sit in small gray cubicles. They’re on their phones to companies in the United States.
RUIZ: We sell promotional items to businesses in the United States, all over the United States. We sell pens, keychains, calendars, keychains, pins.
Each of the salesmen here pitching products have something in common.
RUIZ: The majority are deported people—well, everybody is deported right here.
Ruiz operates his business as an unpaid training center for deportees. In exchange for their work, Ruiz offers a two-month sales training course that will help them find a well-paying job.
RUIZ: The idea is to get them trained. They’ll be able to go to any call center and basically apply what we teach them. They’re building their confidence and their communication skill.
Ruiz understands the fear many of these deportees are experiencing. Many are here without family or connections. He’s experienced that stress firsthand.
RUIZ: I am deported for life. I got deported for life so I can’t go back.
Ruiz’s parents came illegally to the United States in the 1970s. When he was about to be born, his mom became scared that she could be arrested in a U.S. hospital. So she crossed the border to have Ruiz.
RUIZ: So she decided to come over here and have me in TJ and bring me back to the United States, so I never lived in Mexico.
He became an official U.S. resident but never a citizen. Ruiz’s parents eventually divorced, so he went to live with his mother and his uncle. That uncle was a drug trafficker and recruited Ruiz. Eventually, he was smuggling drugs across the U.S./Mexico border via boat. In 1999, at age 21…
RUIZ: I got caught with 1,000 pounds of marijuana, and they basically said that I was involved with organized crime, so that’s why I got deported for life.
After spending time in prison and then an immigration detention center, U.S. officials dropped Ruiz off in Juarez. He made his way to Tijuana to be closer to his family living in San Diego. Ruiz says the reality that he would never return to the United States slowly set in.
RUIZ: It really hit me when I started missing them. Any person that’s deported, they are going to say the same thing. The suffering is when we are missing our families. That’s how we are connected.
In prison, Ruiz became a Christian. And thanks to the support of his church, he slowly began building a life in Mexico. He got a job, bought property, married, and now has four children. Ruiz says learning to live in Mexico wasn’t easy.
RUIZ: I didn’t know anything about Mexican culture, so I had to learn a lot about that. Just speaking Spanish. Because sometimes I think in English and I speak in Spanish, and they get offended. I had to learn how to survive down here as a Mexican.
Ruiz saw other deportees facing similar challenges and wanted to help. He says deportees often face discrimination from Mexicans who look down on them and apathy from the government, which is more concerned with migrants.
RUIZ: It’s shameful to be deported. The things is, deported people, there’s no voice for them.
So he started the call center to help deportees find work. Ruiz says getting a job is a big step towards a deportee coming to terms with their new reality.
RUIZ: Like, basically, what I tell people when you get deported, you gotta understand that you’re in Mexico. Understand that you’ve gotta make something of yourself, and that’s the problem that people have. They think they’re only going to be here temporary and you know, so they do things temporary, and so that’s the problem.
Ruiz uses the profits from his business to provide emergency aid to new deportees dropped at the border. He supports a shelter just a block from the border.
Here deportees, along with migrants, can take a shower, get food and clothing, and find housing. Or they can enjoy the simple pleasure of sitting down and watching a movie.
Ruiz says its important the shelter is close to the border, so volunteers can intercept deportees as soon as they arrive in Mexico. New deportees arrive wearing a gray sweatsuit—the immigration detention center uniform. That makes them easy prey for gangs who know their vulnerable situation.
RUIZ: First of all we offer them clothes. Get them off the sweats, because they are a target. They are a target for the people involved in this bad area right here. So they’re going to get taken advantage and they’re going to get caught up in the drugs because of the desperation, because of the anxiety.
Nearly 20 years after his deportation, Ruiz still experiences some of those feelings. But he can see how God has used his mistake to bring hope to others.
RUIZ: I understand why I got deported, and I’m OK with it, and sometimes I feel like maybe God had a purpose for me. And I think the purpose was for me to be here and to do what I’m doing.
Ruiz says when it comes to immigration policy and who gets deported and why, it isn’t his job to figure out what should be done. He says as a Christian, his concern is helping his neighbor.
RUIZ: The person who is in charge is God. So my role is to help people. That’s my role.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg reporting from Tijuana, Mexico.