SAN DIEGO (AP) — The U.S. government began flying Mexican deportees home on Tuesday in a two-month experiment aimed at relieving Mexican border cities overwhelmed by large numbers of people ordered to leave the United States, some who fall prey to criminal gangs.
The flights will run twice a week from El Paso, Texas, to Mexico City until Nov. 29, at which time both governments will evaluate the results and decide whether to continue. The first flight left Tuesday with 131 Mexicans aboard.
The flights are not voluntary, unlike a previous effort from 2004 to 2011 to deport Mexicans arrested by the Border Patrol during Arizona's deadly summer heat. The U.S. government will pay for the flights, and the Mexican government will pay to return people from Mexico City to their hometowns.
Mexico's Foreign Relations Secretary said late Tuesday that more than 2,400 passengers will be flown to Mexico City during the next two months. Mexicans from the country's northern border states are not eligible.
The experiment comes as Mexican cities along the U.S. border are grappling with large numbers of deportees who have no roots, few job prospects and sometimes limited Spanish. Many are deported to cities that are among the hardest hit by organized crime in Mexico, particularly across the border from Texas in the state of Tamaulipas.
"The newly repatriated, often with no means to return home, are susceptible to becoming part of criminal organizations as a means of survival," Gustavo Mohar, Mexico's interior undersecretary for population, migration and religious affairs, said in a statement released by ICE.
ICE Director John Morton said the flights "will better ensure that individuals repatriated to Mexico are removed in circumstances that are safe and controlled."
ICE, which is managing the flights, said passengers will include Mexicans with criminal convictions in the United States and those who don't have any. They will be taken from throughout the United States to a processing center in Chaparral, N.M., before being put on flights at El Paso International Airport.
President Barack Obama's administration has made migrants with criminal convictions a top priority among the roughly 400,000 people of all nationalities who are deported each year. The Department of Homeland Security said nearly half of the 293,966 Mexicans deported in its last fiscal year had criminal convictions in the United States.