Manuel Antonio Cano Pacheco was just weeks away from graduating high school in Des Moines, Iowa when he was forced by US immigration authorities to return to Mexico, after having lived in the United States for 16 years.
As a teenager, Cano-Pacheco qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and received a work permit. This DACA status, however, was voided after his arrest and conviction on two misdemeanor drug charges. He was ultimately arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2017 and escorted in April across the border by ICE deportation officials.
In May, just three weeks after arriving in Mexico, the 19-year-old was killed in the north-central state of Zacatecas. According to what friends and family have recounted to the Des Moines Register, Cano-Pacheco’s throat was slit while getting food with a friend.
“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” his high school friend told the paper.
Deportees and those who return to Mexico and Central America after a prolonged period of time in the U.S. are frequently targeted by gangs. The Dallas Morning News reports that gangs, particularly along the Texas border with Tamaulipas, have made a habit of holding deportees hostage until their relatives in the U.S. pay thousands of dollars for their release. Between January and June 2017, the U.S. deported more than 31,000 Mexicans through two of the most dangerous crossing points, according to Mexico’s immigration service. These areas are so dangerous that the U.S. State Department frequently issues alerts and warnings for traveling Americans.
In Zacatecas, where Cano-Pacheco died, three different cartels are currently in operation and there has been a dramatic increase in homicides. Last year, a mass grave with 14 bodies was found there, believed to be linked to a gang.
ICE agents, however, don’t seem to concern themselves with the safety of the individuals they deport. According to ICE spokesperson Shawn Neudauer, “once turned over, they are the responsibility of their own government.”
Unfortunately, Cano-Pacheco’s story isn’t an anomaly.
Austin, Texas, resident Juan Coronilla-Guerrero was detained by ICE in March 2017 during a raid. It was later revealed by a federal court judge that the raids were conducted as retaliation against Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez for refusing to comply with ICE detainer requests in the weeks after Trump took office and began his attacks so-called sanctuary cities.
Guerrero’s wife had warned officials that if her husband was deported, he would be killed. Despite her warnings, he was deported in June 2017. Months later, Guerrero was kidnapped in front of his family by armed men. His body was found in September on the side of a road in San Luis de la Paz, Guanajuato.
“When I asked that they not deport him, they did it knowing that I told [government officials] that he couldn’t go back because they were going to kill him. Look, now he’s dead and nothing can be done, nothing can be remedied,” Coronilla-Guerrero’s wife said in a statement. “My son saw everything and now he is asking me for his dad and what can I tell him if I don’t have the words to say that he is dead? Now all of my family is in danger.”
According to the Austin American-Statesman, the same gangs that prompted Guerrero’s family to move to Austin are the ones responsible for his murder.
The deaths of immigrants like Guerrero and Cano-Pacheco underscore that Mexican and Central American individuals and families come to the U.S. for real reasons. For them, it is quite literally a life or death situation. Despite this, asylum seekers are repeatedly denied entry at the border due to the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.