Life after deportation: A stranger in Mexico
02:35 - Source: CNN

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Jorge Matadamas, 23, has lived in the United States since he was 4 years old

After being deported earlier this month, he's building a new life in a country he barely knows

Mexico City CNN  — 

Jorge Matadamas is a Mexican citizen, but at 23 years old, everything about the country is brand new to him.

From the time he was 4 years old, when he says his undocumented parents took him across the border into the United States, he lived in Phoenix. “I had lived there for so long that I considered it my home,” he said.

Then, on March 7, he was deported.

Now he’s living with his uncle and aunt in La Paz, a suburb about an hour and a half drive from the center of Mexico City.

The house, considered to be middle-class in the area, is small compared to the one where he grew up in the United States. His aunt runs a “deposito,” or small snack and soda shop, attached to the front of the property.

Jorge Matadamas

“The first couple of days I think were the hardest,” he said, “because they were the most emotional for actually realizing that I am not going to go back (to America) anytime soon.”

“I didn’t show it, but I was homesick.”

When it comes to speaking Spanish, Matadamas can generally hold his own in a conversation, he said. He usually has to think of what he is going to say in English first, then translate it in his head.

But he speaks what is often called “Pocho,” an unflattering term for Americanized Spanish, and a word that’s used to describe Mexicans who have lost their culture.

Matadamas' aunt and uncle's house in La Paz. The "deposito" can be seen out front.

‘They return without knowing their country’

As the national director of Somos Mexicanos, created by Mexico’s immigration department three years ago to help repatriate Mexicans deported from the United States, Dalia Gabriela Garcia Acoltzi said she has seen thousands of people like Matadamas.

“They return speaking better English than Spanish,” she said. “They return to Mexico without knowing their own country. They may know they were born here but that is about all they know.”

Her organization helps them get proper identification, any required medical attention, and advises them about the various government programs that can assist them as they reassimilate into Mexico.

She said their knowledge of English is actually a great strength. “We are going to need better English teachers,” Acoltzi said. “Who better than a Mexican citizen who has learned it as their native language?”

While a few become teachers, she said most get their first jobs at one of the many English call centers in Mexico, or work in the tourist industries that cater to Americans.

Acoltzi said she has seen a decrease in the number of people coming to her agency compared to this time last year. But President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders broadening immigration officers’ enforcement authority, coupled with his rhetoric about taking a tougher line on unauthorized immigration, have sparked fears among immigrant communities that deportations will rise – and that more people who have largely known the United States as home will find themselves in Matadamas’ situation.

A chance to stay legally, lost after arrest

Matadamas entered the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program in 2014, a measure that granted protections and work privileges to about 750,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

But last August, police stopped and arrested him for drunk driving.

“It was a stupid thing to do, and I made a mistake,” Matadamas said, saying he takes responsibility for his actions.

Before that incident, he said he had never broken the law, other than getting a few traffic tickets.

Matadamas spent a month in the county jail before he was able to bond out. But before he was able to leave, ICE officials detained him.

He spent six months in an ICE detention center in Eloy, Arizona. While he was there, he married his longtime girlfriend, Iman, who is a US citizen and still living in Phoenix. But the criminal charges will keep his new wife from being able to petition for Matadamas’ citizenship.

After his appeal to the deportation judge was denied, he was bused over the border into the Mexican town of Nogales.

It began to sink in then that Mexico was a foreign country for him in every sense of the word. “I’m actually leaving what I thought home was at one point in life, and going to a complete new country that I had never seen or been to,” he said. “It was kinda frightening.”