Deported Guatemalans thrust back into poverty, crime

Tue Aug 18, 2009 3:31pm EDT
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By Sarah Grainger

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Luis Hernandez earned $22.50 an hour and shared a modern apartment as a construction worker in Salt Lake City, Utah, before being deported back to a tin-roof shack in a Guatemala City slum where tattooed members of violent street gangs lurk at every corner.

Broke and facing the reality of life back here after being arrested and flown home last month, he is among a growing number of illegal immigrants being deported from the United States, many with barely a dollar in their pocket.

With a scarcity of decent-paying formal jobs, deportees are also easy recruits for the gangs and drug traffickers that make Guatemala one of the most violent countries in Latin America.

"There's work but it doesn't pay well. The neighborhood is in a bad way because of the low salaries on offer," said Hernandez, 30, who worked in the United States for most of the past decade, sending money to his wife and two children.

He was sent home with only a check for $10.21 that he has been unable to cash in Guatemala. Work in his grimy neighborhood tends to pay only a few dollars a day.

"If I don't find a job that pays enough to support my family, I don't know what I'm going to do," Hernandez said, as his children watched television in a nearby bedroom.

Caught crossing the border and nabbed in police operations, undocumented workers like Hernandez are deported on nine or 10 charter flights that leave each weekday, most bound for Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Their big debts to people smugglers and the fact they send the bulk of their pay home to family members means many deportees return poorer than when they left.   Continued...

<p>Luis Hernandez, an illegal immigrant deported from the U.S., stands outside of his house at Los Cerritos slum in Guatemala City July 11, 2009. REUTERS/Carlos Barria</p>