Border Patrol institutes new program to fly deportees to Mexico
The Department of Homeland Security will roll out a new program for deporting immigrants around the country.
In an effort to save money, federal authorities have cut a voluntary program that arranged flights for non-criminal deportees from border stations to Mexico City — an initiative originally intended to discourage repeat crossings, especially in the hot summer months in which border deaths are common. The program will be replaced with a mandatory pilot initiative that will send criminal and non-criminal deportees from around the country on planes to the Mexican capital.
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that the Border Patrol halted all flights to the center of Mexico for non-criminal deportees due to budget restrictions and lowered levels of border crossings. However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) says that’s not the whole story.
The flights are to be replaced with a “new pilot program” called the Interior Removal Initiative (IRI). The new initiative, which will begin next month, is an effective expansion of a former program, the Mexico Interior Repatriation Program (MIRP), which flew deportees back to Mexico. Unlike MIRP, the new program will transport both criminal and non-criminal deportees, and will be used to deport not only those apprehended by the Border Patrol, but also those picked up by officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) throughout the U.S. MIRP was voluntary for deportees, while IRI will not be.
ICE spokeswoman Nicole Navas told Univision that it is not yet determined whether criminals and non-criminals will sit next to each other on flights home to Mexico.
“That’s still in discussion,” Navas said.
The decision to sit criminals next to non-criminals on such flights was met with resistance from the Mexican government, according to the AP. ICE also is unsure of the projected cost of the pilot program.
“I don’t know the projected cost,” Navas said. “The thing is that it hasn’t been implemented yet. But that’s a question people are gonna ask, so we hope to have a projected cost soon.”
George Allen, assistant chief of the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, told the Associated Press that MIRP had proven to be effective in decreasing the number of immigrants who attempt to cross the border again after being deported, but that the flights had been cut as border apprehensions have slowed, leading them to rethink the program.
“We’re running into a more budget-conscious society, especially with the government,” Allen told the AP.
Since it’s inception, MIRP came at a price tag of almost $100 million to taxpayers, according to the AP. The U.S. government reportedly spent more than $51 million over the course of the first four summers of the program, flying nearly 64,000 undocumented immigrants back to Mexico City, according to a 2008 report by NBCNews.com. An average of 176 immigrants were flown home everyday during that time, the report said. Last summer, the flights under MIRP were cut from twice a day to once a day. And this summer, the flights were phased out completely, according to the AP.
At the time it was instituted, CBP agents said it would help save lives and money by decreasing the likelihood of immigrants perishing in the desert in their attempts to re-cross the border in the hot summer months.
“It saves the taxpayers money and addresses a very critical life-safety issue for individuals who are out in the desert in these very dangerous months,” Kelly Nantel, ICE spokeswoman, told NBC.
However, in 2010, the Government Accountability Office said U.S. authorities had not shown the one-way flights were effective in discouraging repeat border crossings, AP reported.
How else are immigrants deported aside from flights?
With MIRP flights halted this summer, deported immigrants were sent home on buses and let off at specified drop off points — many of which are on the border. The border town drop offs may, however, have a number of drawbacks for enforcement strategy, most notably that repeat crossing is a more tempting option for some immigrants dropped off in border towns, due to proximity to the U.S. and the relative distance to their home cities.
In addition, deportees dropped off in border towns often become the target of gang abuses in regions like Matamoros, Mexico, the Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday. After 72 migrants making their way to the United States were massacred by such criminal groups in 2010, the region has been avoided by those who have a choice. But for some deportees, who are also perceived to be vulnerable targets by Mexican gangs, there is little way around it.
“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 the LA Times.
The new IRI program aims to “prioritize the humane treatment of detainees throughout the removal process,” according to a statement released by ICE. Deportees under the pilot program will be flown to Mexico City, where they will be provided bus tickets to their final destinations in the Mexican interior.