EJP publishes two reentry guides every year: Mapping Your Future: A Guide to Successful Reentry in Illinois and A New Path: A Guide to the Challenges and Opportunities After Deportation. Of the two, A New Path is created for those who face deportation to Mexico or Central America following their sentence.
Lee Ragsdale, the reentry guide initiative director at EJP, says A New Path was created after recognizing that there’s a need for a completely different set of resources for people who are facing deportation.
According to Lee, formerly incarcerated individuals who are expected to be released or recently released need comprehensive information about migrant shelters at the border, bus routes, a form of identification, access to healthcare, and job opportunities.
“When a formerly incarcerated person is deported, they are dropped at the border and they are given a debit card that has about $50 in it,” says Lee. “Someone will open the gate and say there’s Mexico. Go.”
Lee currently lives in Michoacán, México with her husband who was deported in 2013, following his incarceration. Although her husband was born in Michoacán, he was only four months old when his family moved to the U.S. and had no memory of living in Mexico.
She recalls how her husband was shuttled between the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities for two weeks and was chained at the hands and feet as he was moved around. Afterward, he was flown out with other formerly incarcerated individuals from the Midwest region.
Upon arrival, Lee’s husband met with Mexican immigration authorities who provided a brief orientation. The authorities allowed phone calls, internet use, rides to the bus station and gave a warning about kidnapping or recruitment efforts by the cartels in the area.
Lee said countries’ resources and orientation for deported individuals vary based on the availability of infrastructure and capital. Countries such as El Salvador may provide transportation, food, and medicine, but those with weaker economies such as Honduras don’t provide many resources.
“They say that they have a center that will help you but we’ve heard stories of people basically being pushed out of the center so that does vary,” said Lee.
EJP plans to work with the Mexico consulate to adapt A New Path to work for anyone who lives under the threat of deportation.
“Right now, our target audience is people who are incarcerated in Illinois who will then potentially be deported after release,” Lee said. “But why limit it to that? The information is relevant to those facing deportation who might be living in another state, whether they are incarcerated or not.”
Language Partners, EJP’s English as a Second Language program, has led discussions about immigration in conjunction with language learning at the prison. Jim Sosnowski, the Language Partners co-coordinator, says many of the incarcerated individuals at Danville Correctional Center face deportation and that students take different approaches to the topic.
“Students have journaled about their immigration experience and what it is like to be away from home and their reasons for immigrating to the U.S.,” said Jim. “Some lessons have focused on students composing essays and even role-plays based on their immigration experience.”
“At the same time, students have also communicated that they don’t always want to talk about immigration because this is only one part of their identity and only one of their interests,” Jim said.
Lee stresses that it’s important for people to understand what takes place during the deportation process and what it’s like to live in the U.S. with the threat of deportation. She said some families have spent twenty or more years living in the U.S. as undocumented – a lot of them have U.S. citizen children – and they could be picked up for traffic violation and be separated from their children for years.
“So I think it’s important for people to understand about family separation that takes place as the result of immigration policies and the trauma that goes along with separating children from their parents for an extended period,” Lee said.
Click here for the 2021 edition of A New Path in both English and Spanish versions.