The Mexican Repatriation Process and Arguments of Relocation in U.S. Immigration Hearings



The purpose of this article is examine the Mexican repatriation process and how the government tracks its citizens. In immigration hearings, the U.S. government regularly asserts that respondents who are threatened by cartels can relocate to other areas of Mexico, obtain jobs, and function normally without detection. However, there are a number of mechanisms the Mexican government uses in order to know where its citizens live. Given that the Mexican bureaucracy has been compromised by officials under the pay of drug cartels, cartels can use these same databases to track persons of interest and continue to threaten them. It is highly probable, therefore, that no person can prevent drug cartels finding out where they live in the long term.

Repatriation Process:

When a Mexican is repatriated, they fall under local repatriation arrangements signed by both U.S. and Mexican government officials designed to strengthen the bilateral framework for the protection of Mexican citizens being returned to Mexico, improve the efficient use of limited resources, and increase coordination during the repatriation process. Before or during the repatriation, the Department of Homeland Security provides the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM) a list of the persons to be repatriated and pertinent on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Form I-216 [1]

When individuals who have been convicted of criminal offenses are being repatriated through formal immigration proceedings, information added includes alias, convictions and dates, and time served. In addition, the INM has web access to the U.S. Criminal History

Information Sharing (CHIS) which includes biometric information (photographs and fingerprints). DHS Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) stores fingerprints on behalf of DHS component agencies which can be readily accessed by Mexican authorities. In a previous article, we examined the CHIS in more detail [2]

Therefore, when a repatriated citizen is returned, Mexican authorities have a good deal of information on each person. This data is augmented by several necessary disclosures each returnee must do in order to move throughout the country, hold a job, or have access to national health insurance.


Mexican citizens must have some sort of identification. Police can jail persons who do not have identification. Recent deportees can carry a U.S. identification such as a state drivers license. The Matrícula Consular is given by Mexican consulates in the U.S. but is not recognized as an official identification. Those without either can go to a local governmental office to request a Carta de Residencia which serves as a temporary identification.

Nevertheless, U.S. identification or temporary Mexican ones are not accepted for most transactions. The Credencial de Elector del Instituto Nacional Electoral (INE) is the most widely used form of identification in Mexico. It is issued by the IFE – the Instituto Federal de Eleciones and is essentially a voter registration card. One needs a Credencial de Elector to open a bank account, to apply for a job, and for employment. Proof of address within three months as required—a receipt of telephone, electricity, bank, school or other public or private services. If a person’s address changes, this must be updated with the IFE [3]

Driver’s License:

Obtaining a driver’s license in Mexico is separate from the INE application and is run by theDepartamento de Registro y Control Vehicular in each Mexican State. Applicants must present their Credencial de Elector as well as proof of address: a recent utility bill, phone, property tax or bank statement in the person’s name not older than 90 days. The license is normally valid for two years and when a person renews, they must provide updated proof of address [4]

Health Insurance-Seguro Popular:

Seguro Popular is the state issued medical service that provides medical and surgical services, as well as pharmaceuticals, hospitalization, and preventive health services. Its main objective is to provide financial protection to the non-insured population, through a scheme of health insurance, public and voluntary. Almost all repatriated citizens will fall under Seguro Popular until they obtain jobs through a state entity after which they may obtain upgraded health insurance. In order to accessSeguro Popular, an applicant needs to provide the Mexican Secretaría de Salud proof of address of no more than two months old and a birth certificate. This information is required to be updated each time the applicant requests health services [5]


The point of this article is to show that repatriated Mexican citizens are effectively tracked by their government from documents and CHIS data given to it by U.S. authorities, to registering for national identification, driver licensure, and obtaining basic health care. At each point, a residential address must be given and updated periodically. This information is stored by Mexican authorities which allows them to know the location of each of their citizens.

As noted earlier, during deportation hearings, respondents are regularly asked by the U.S. government about their ability to hide or find employment in other areas of Mexico and thus avoid drug cartel detection. Unfortunately, Mexican law enforcement and government officials operate under the mandate of “silver or lead”-- basically take a bribe or take a bullet in regard to cartels. This puts good police and government officials in fear of enforcing the law and corrupt ones with increased power that comes from association with the cartels. Two-thirds of local police earn less than $300 per month and the remaining third earn less than $100 per month. Cartel bribes often times greatly exceed monthly salaries. Thus, cartels can co-opt government or law enforcement officials to obtain addresses or other information from persons of interest from the beforementioned government databases.

This leaves repatriated Mexicans who fear cartels having to drop out of society in order to stay safe—meaning having no government identification, ability to obtain good paying work, health care and other essential public services. Thus, for those repatriated Mexicans who want to reintegrate into society and lead normal lives, they leave themselves open to detection from the same cartels they fear.


[2] Robert Kirkland and Duncan Breda, “The U.S. Criminal History Information Sharing Program and El Salvador’s Decree 717,” May 30, 2018, accessed at:

[3] [Los Angeles Times, “Mexico supports its ‘migrant heroes’ in the U.S., but ignores them when they are deported,” May 4, 2018, accessed at: ; Compounding that problem this year was that anyone returning to Mexico between March and June did not even have the option of obtaining a Credencial de Elector because of restrictions imposed during the months before an election. Returnees were forced, in effect, to live "without papers" in their own country; See also Joel Medina, “Life After Deportation,” accessed at:

[4] See for example requirements for Mexico City:

[5] Mexican Secretaría de Salud, “Seguro Popular,” accessed at:

About The Author

Robert Kirkland is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and operational Latin American Foreign Area Officer. He has a B.S. from the United States Military Academy, West Point and a M.A. and Ph.D. in Latin American history from the University of Pittsburgh. He also has a graduate certificate in Latin American Studies from the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He also helps guide students in Service Academy admissions as well as ROTC scholarships . He has provided expert testimony on drug cartel and gang violence in Mexico and Central America since his retirement from the Army in 2014. He can be reached at info@ or at his website .

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.