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REYNOSA, Mexico – Ecuadorean computer technician Agustina Herrera paid people smugglers $14,000 to slip into the United States illegally two years ago, swimming the Rio Grande, tramping through swamps and nearly dying from snake bites.
Now, after being deported last week from Kentucky, she is preparing to tackle the tough crossing all over again.
“I can’t go back to Ecuador. My family and my life are in the United States and I’ll do whatever I need to get back,” said Herrera, 23, who was waiting for her father in the United States to wire the money to pay a smuggler.
As some conservative U.S. politicians call for mass deportations and passionately denounce an immigration reform bill being debated in the Senate, Mexican officials say Latin American who want to immigrate are not deterred.
The U.S. Senate voted on Monday to resume debate on the legislation, which still faces a tough fight for passage.
“Almost everyone who gets repatriated tries to cross again and a lot of them make it,” said Justo Ayala, head of Mexico’s immigration institute in Reynosa on the northeastern border. “People want better paid jobs and they are pretty determined.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says it has been successful in stopping illegal immigration, cutting the number of arrests along the border by 8 percent in fiscal year 2006 and non-Mexican arrests in particular by 35 percent.
But some like Herrera, with a life in the United States, see no option but to go back. “I have an American boyfriend, a house, a dog and my job teaching computer skills to other immigrants,” said Herrera. “My dad is there too.”
Mexico’s immigration institute says the majority of the 6,000 Mexicans deported to the Reynosa area last year did not return home, and instead crossed back into Texas.
Workers at a shelter for migrants in Reynosa support that view, saying very few deported Latin Americans go back to their towns and villages because jobs there are so poorly paid.
“A lot of those who try the journey after being deported ring us to let us know they have arrived,” said Maria de Lourdes Rivas, a nun working at the Reynosa migrant shelter.
After raiding companies using illegal immigrant workers, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, deported a record 185,431 people in fiscal year 2006, a 10 percent increase versus the same 2005 period.