PHOENIX -- Starting next month, the Department of Homeland Security will test a new way to send Mexican deportees back to their home country. The pilot initiative will likely mean that fewer deported migrants will wind up in Mexican border towns.
Agency officials say that starting in October, a two-month pilot program will fly Mexican nationals to Mexico City if they are originally from the interior of the country. From the capitol, the returning migrants can take buses to their hometowns.
Under the current system, most Mexican nationals who are apprehended at the border or deported from the U.S., wind up just on the other side of the border. Often they are bused to a border crossing and walk across.
That has left border towns overwhelmed by the rising number of deportees — many of whom are not from those towns and have no ties there.
“They need to be housed, they need to be fed, and they need to be given transportation back to their cities of origin,” said Erik Lee, Associate Director of the North American Center for Transborder Studies at Arizona State University. “So it is a substantial management challenge for Mexican border cities, many of whom are not particularly well funded to deal with such a challenge.”
In addition, Lee said there are security concerns.
“The complaints of Mexican border city mayors and law enforcement personnel is that these deportees were fairly easy prey for Mexican criminal organizations operating in these border cities,” Lee said.
A statement released Sept. 10 by the Department of Homeland Security explained the motivation behind the new program, known as the Interior Repatriation Initiative.
“Removing Mexican nationals to the interior of Mexico is part of an effort to reduce repeat attempts to illegally enter the United States, avoid the loss of human life, and minimize the potential for exploitation of illegal migrants by human smuggling and trafficking organizations as well as other criminal organizations.”
The same statement says the agency is still in discussions with Mexico over the details of the bilateral program. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano first negotiated the agreement during a visit to Mexico in February.
The Interior Repatriation Initiative expands on a previous program that flew Mexican border crossers apprehended in the Arizona desert back to the interior of Mexico during summer months on a voluntary basis. Since 2004, that program repatriated more than 125,000 people at a cost of $90 million, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The number of Mexican nationals repatriated through that program fell last summer, and it was suspended this summer.