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Deportees Connect!

We seek to bridge communication among families separated by deportation, provide mental health services and remove stigmatizing tattoos.

Photo of Victoria Ojeda
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Deportees, including deported veterans, in Mexico are discriminated and stigmatized due to their status as deportees and implied criminality. Tattooed deportees experience police violence and economic adversity through extortion and exclusion from the labor market, which increases their likelihood of homelessness, poor mental health, drug use, and becoming a financial burden on their U.S.-based families when deportees cannot gain local employment. Many deportees have strong roots to U.S. communities (e.g., lived 10+ years there) through family formation, labor market ties, and public service. Yet, the deportation process is a traumatic event for the deportee, who may lack connections to the receiving community, and their family members in the U.S.A. who lose a parent, spouse and financial/other resources provided by the deportee. This idea addresses key challenges facing deportees: 1) by receiving free laser tattoo removal, deportees may increase their access to the Mexican labor market and thus prevent mental health and social and economic adversity for themselves and their families, and 2) a free phone and video-conferencing service may help low-income deportees remain engaged in their families’ lives by promoting parent-child and parent-parent relationships, and 3) a free mental health program can help deportees manage their mental health needs and cultural adjustment in order to integrate into Mexican society.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

We target the US-border city of Tijuana, Mexico which is a harsh environment for deported migrants and deported veterans. Tijuana receives the highest proportion of deportees returned to Mexico (>1 million since 2008) and police harass, unlawfully arrest and abuse deportees and migrants face many social and structural barriers (i.e., poverty, homelessness, discrimination, unemployment, and barriers to physical/mental health care, and drug treatment) daily.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Our idea allows impoverished deportees to have a safe space in order to communicate with their families via free phone/video services. Our free tattoo removal program will eliminate stigmatizing tattoos so deportees can gain employment and avoid discrimination. Mental health services will allow deportees to address trauma and other mental health issues that may limit their integration into society. These services bridge deportees, their families and communities with that heal the body and mind.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

All persons have the right to be treated justly and equitably and stigma and discrimination can lead to hopelessness, depression and trauma. Our proposal seeks to promote the social and economic integration of deportees returned to Tijuana, thus promoting hope and dignity through self-sufficiency and social connectedness via the removal of stigmatizing tattoos which may limit employment and produce poverty and adverse mental health outcomes. Our proposal aims to heal the mind from the trauma and scars produced by separation from family, friends, and communities in the U.S. To promote healing, we propose to: a) engage mental health professionals on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border to help identify and treat mental health symptoms and consequences, particularly among veterans who have unique needs; and b) respond to deportees’ and families’ needs to see and hear each other through the use of audio/video services that can strengthen the parent-parent and parent-child relationship.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Since 2011, we have provided free primary health care to poor deportees in Tijuana in two easily accessible sites: 1) our first clinic is in the Padre Chava Soup Kitchen (PCSK) which daily serves meals to >1500 deportees, veterans, and Central Americans, Africans, and Haitians, 2) our second clinic is in the Sex Work District. This program will allow us to meet deportees’ communication, social integration and mental health needs—all of the services proposed are unavailable via public programs and very costly for deportees earning <$200/US per month. If funded, we will optimize our relationship with the PCSK to reach deportees in need of these greatly needed services. We will secure feedback from clients and all partners to determine the impact of the program and identify any changes needed to improve the quality of the services provided.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

During the past 8 years, we have provided primary health care services to deportees (including veterans) and community organizations who serve deportees and other migrants. Our research has also illustrated the devastating effects of family separation on deportees and their families remaining in the U.S.A. Moreover, this research has demonstrated that deportees are eager to support their families emotionally, physically, socially and in whichever way they can, though the harsh reality of post-deportation life often challenges them from staying involved. We have observed that when deportees are suffering social and economically, they may distance themselves from their families, which further compounds the anguish and trauma resulting from their deportation. Our idea is inspired by our research, community service programs, deportee participation in our program, and the advent of low-cost services that can be provided en-masse through our unique binational partnerships.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Our stakeholders are the City of Tijuana, the U.S.A., and migrant serving health and social institutions, policy makers and researchers in both countries. Our program builds bridges between deportees in Tijuana and their families who remained in the U.S. while also strengthening the relationships between deportees and the local labor market and mental health providers that can understand their unique needs. A focus group with deported migrants and veterans, underscored the great need for free telecommunication and mental health services given participants’ trauma, need to connect with families, and limited experience with Mexican institutions. Our team has a standing advisory board that includes ~10 deportees and veterans to ensure that the program is aligned to their diverse and unique needs and experiences in the community.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Our idea leverages binational partnerships with community-based migrant serving organizations in Tijuana, local government, publicly funded health care providers, and academic institutions that have a shared interest in the successful development of migrants who were displaced via deportation to Mexico and their families remaining in the U.S.A. Our coalition brings together the expertise of researchers in public health and medicine, primary care physicians, mental health providers, and community members who have ample lived experience in the areas of deported veterans issues, family separation, social work and human rights as they relate to the needs of migrants and deportees. We will leverage existing spaces in the community to deliver the proposed program so that it is easily accessible to any migrant seeking these supports.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Our current partners are the Health Frontiers in Tijuana free health care clinic, Padre Chava Soup Kitchen in Tijuana, the Elton John AIDS Foundation which has previously funded HIV services for migrants and deportees, the Tijuana General Hospital, and the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California [UABC] Medical School, the University of San Diego Marriage and Family Therapy Program, and the Madres Deportadas [Deported Mothers] Association. We would like to add the local Desarrollo Integral de la Familia [DIF] program which supports poor families in Mexico.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototype: We have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Group or Organization Name

The University of California, San Diego Medical School

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

The UCSD School of Medicine and the Health Frontiers in Tijuana (HFIT) Free Clinic, a non-profit non-governmental organization have been collaborating since 2011 to provide free primary health care to Tijuana’s most vulnerable residents, with a focus on deportees, deported veterans, those living with HIV, the homeless, substance users, and others living with mental illness. Our primary partners include the UABC Medical School, the Tijuana General Hospital and HIV Program, and the Padre Chava Soup Kitchen. This program fits within the larger mission of the this collaborative to promote mental and physical health and social well being, especially among deportees. We are ideally suited to deliver this program given our wide network of mental health providers and 2 physical locations (PCSK, HFIT Clinic) embedded in the community which can be easily accessed by our target population and where we can address multiple needs due to co-location of services.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a formal part of a University or Research Institution

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State

La Jolla, CA

Attachments (1)


Jurney Map of a Deported Migrant in Tijuana


Join the conversation:

Photo of Sevde Şengün

Hi Victoria Ojeda  and Jose-Luis, great to have you share your idea for the challenge! The challenge's idea phase will be closing on 17th August. Before its expired could you share more details specifically about your plan of action? and could you clarify what are the results of the project so far in your blueprint phase? Also you can create a possible user and share with us ,
i.e. "journey map of migrants of Tijuana" which is very important to integrate into this platform as you progress in the challenge!
While you working on your idea these tool kit might be helpful , check out the Prototyping toolkit here:

I would suggest also to have a look at our challenge evaluation criteria again for checking:

Last curious, I wonder if Isaac Jumba  might have some insights or experiences for a different context that you can share?

Photo of Victoria Ojeda

Hi Sevde! Thanks for the suggestions. I believe that we have used up the available space allocated in most sections--is there a way to obtain more space if needed?
Thanks for suggesting Isaac, we will review his profile to understand if a collaboration might be in order.

Photo of Sevde Şengün

Hello Victoria Ojeda  , yes your application is descriptive working.Actually I mentioned above user journey map, its a visual addition. So I meant, for more effective interaction of your project; it might be helpful to add diagrams and visuals about your potential user's journey /process :)

Photo of Victoria Ojeda

Dear Sevde! Thank you for your help, I added the journey map in Tijuana as an image and also as an attachment to make it more readable.

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