Tamaulipas, despite being the center of a turf war between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, is the destination for an increasing number of deportees from the U.S.

Richard Marosi of the Los Angeles Times traveled to Matamoras to report on the plight of these deportees, many of whom have no connection to the northeastern Mexican state they are sent. As Marosi reported:

Repatriations to the besieged border cities of Matamoros, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo jumped nearly fivefold to 124,729 last year from 25,376 in 2006, according to Mexico’s National Institute of Migration. More than one-fourth of all deportees from the U.S. are sent to Tamaulipas, even as violence here escalates.

(The U.S. deported 391,953 people last year, a record number, according to the New York Times. That number included 205,811 Mexican nationals, according to the Office of Immigration Statistics.)

So, how did Tamaulipas become such a destination for deportees? Well, according to Marosi, Mexican officials “successfully petitioned U.S. authorities to reduce deportations to violence-plagued Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso. But the change merely increased deportations to Tamaulipas.”

Deportees are attractive targets for kidnappers because many of them have relatives who remain in the U.S. who can be asked to pay ransom. “Deporting people here is like sending them into a trap … to be hunted down,” Father Francisco Gallardo, a Roman Catholic priest who runs shelters in Matamoros and Reynosa, told Marosi.

Lookouts track new arrivals from the moment they enter Mexico. Gunmen intercept deportees at migrant shelters and buses and outside money-transfer businesses. They hold them for ransom, recruit them into gangs, sometimes assault, torture and “disappear” them. Church-run shelters and social service groups, once safe ground, no longer are.

One of the men Marosi interviewed had been flown from Southern California to Matamoras, and he described his harrowing journey from the bus station in Matamoras to a church-run migrant shelter. The shelter itself does not seem deserving of the title, as drug gangs snatched 15 people at gunpoint from there on Christmas Eve.