Kinder, Gentler Deportation Program Might Not Work

Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times, tribnet.com (WA), Jul. 13

MEXICO CITY—The first repatriation flight of Mexicans caught illegally crossing the Arizona border landed here Monday evening, kicking off a program that could return thousands of border crossers to Mexico.

U.S. officials say using planes to ferry Mexicans home—rather than dropping them off at the border—would keep migrants away from smugglers and discourage repeat attempts at sneaking back into the United States.

But 20-year-old Hector Dimas, among the 138 migrants who disembarked from a chartered Air Mexicana flight, said the program would not squash his dream to return to work in the United States.

“I will be going back in 15 days,” said Dimas, who has worked in Dallas as a construction worker for the past four years. “I need to work. The jobs in Mexico don’t pay anything.”

Seven of eight deportees interviewed within a half-hour period Monday said they would cross the border soon.

“I’ll try again in a month,” said 34-year-old Juan Mora, who left behind his wife and two children in Richardson, Texas, to visit relatives in Mexico. The landscape worker had made four successful border crossings until this weekend, when he was arrested by U.S. border agents.

Like Mora, the migrants who arrived here Monday agreed to leave a federal detention facility in Tucson, Ariz., and take the free flight home.

The chartered flights cost U.S. taxpayers $28,000 each and will return up to 300 migrants daily. By Thursday, the repatriation operation will include daily flights from Tucson to Guadalajara, as well as to Mexico City. Migrants electing to leave the detention facility will be given bus vouchers to their hometowns.

U.S. officials have pledged to avoid the use of shackles, restraints and handcuffs in transporting the returning migrants. On Monday, the returning migrants reported that they were provided with a meal of spinach pasta and soft drinks during the three-hour flight.

U.S. and Mexican officials say they hope that the joint “voluntary repatriation” program would reduce the numbers of migrant deaths in the brutal heat of the Arizona desert this summer.

While acknowledging the program might save lives, migrant advocates say the U.S. government is motivated by more than good deeds, noting that the U.S. Border Patrol has recently launched an aggressive campaign to round up illegal migrants.

Agency officials say they hope that the new repatriation scheme, like several others over the past decade, will make immigration more expensive for deportees.

“It remains to be seen what percentage of the thousands caught at the border each week will opt for a free ride home,” said Wayne Cornelius, immigration expert at the University of California at San Diego. “But bus tickets are cheap in Mexico, and even from the southern part of the country it should cost only about $100 and take two or three days for the average migrant to get back to the border.”

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