US begins flying home deported Mexicans

Associated Press Modified: October 2, 2012 at 9:30 pm •  Published: October 2, 2012
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The policy has fueled concern in Mexican cities along the U.S. border that deportees are being victimized, turn to petty crime or are recruited by criminal gangs. In February, Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Mexican Interior Secretary Alejandro Poire announced plans for a pilot program, which was to begin April 1, but negotiations delayed the start until Tuesday. Homeland Security officials said the time was needed considering the complexities and logistics of the effort.

The Border Patrol will not participate in the flights, which is called the Interior Repatriation Initiative, said ICE spokeswoman Nicole Navas.

Under a previous effort, some Mexicans who were arrested by the Border Patrol in Arizona's stifling summer heat were offered a free flight to Mexico City, but they could refuse. The Mexican Interior Repatriation Program flights carried 125,164 passengers at a cost of $90.6 million from 2004 to 2011, or an average of $724 for each passenger, according to ICE.

The flights became a key piece of Border Patrol enforcement in Arizona as the agency moved to end its decades-old, revolving-door policy of taking migrants to the nearest border crossing to try again hours later.

Doris Meissner, who headed the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in the 1990s, said the pilot program was an encouraging sign that that two governments are working together to address the large number of deportees in Mexico's northern border cities.

"It makes it less likely these people will try to renter the U.S. ... and it creates some chance that they are in an environment where they actually have some ties," she said.

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