Just after dawn, Gerardo Lopez Arellano shuffles along in a line of 51 other shackled men on an isolated tarmac where a white, unmarked federal jet is waiting to take them to the U.S.-Mexico border.
The 24-year-old construction worker, who grew up near the Texas border, was deported twice before this year, but he is indifferent on this cool morning at O’Hare International Airport.
“I’ll probably be back,” he says.
Arellano is one of nearly 11,200 illegal immigrants deported this year through Chicago, the location of a field office for the Midwest region covered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. By contrast, in 2004 about 6,600 people were deported from the region, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin.
Deportations also have increased nationwide, with nearly 350,000 immigrants sent home through September, compared with about 174,000 in the comparable period in 2004.
The trend is expected to continue, but experts and immigration officials aren’t certain whether deportations—which affect less than 3 percent of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States this year—are an effective means of controlling that population.
For Luis Armando Jimenez-Gonzalez, a 20-year-old who immigrated illegally to be with his U.S. citizen fiancee, it was worth the risk. He paid a smuggler to help him cross the border.
“I came here to work, to have a better chance,” he said.
Jimenez-Gonzalez, who also has a criminal record with a 2007 burglary conviction, worked in construction around Chicago. He was deported on the same flight as Arellano but planned to stay with family in Mexico.
“It causes a lot of pain to come here,” he said.