U.S. in talks to deport deeper inside Mexico

By Jeremy Redmon, Mario Guevara and Curtis Compton

Published: Saturday, May 26 2012 9:43 p.m. MDT

ATLANTA (MCT) — The United States and Mexico are negotiating plans to start deporting criminal illegal immigrants deep into Mexico rather than releasing them at the border, hoping to stop adding to the criminal chaos south of the border.

Some possible outcomes are fewer repeat illegal border crossings and fewer deportation flights originating from the States, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said.

Last fiscal year, the government spent $120.9 million deporting 182,655 people by plane. Of those, 17,777 were flown out of Columbus Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, according to ICE. And most of them — 13,806 — were deported to Mexico.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was recently given access to one of those flights, where the newspaper found most on the plane had criminal records. They were being flown to a small town in Texas, where they would be bused to the border. Several of those interviewed said they were upset about leaving their U.S.-born children and frightened of returning to Mexico amid the gruesome drug gang violence there. The government is now flying most Mexican illegal immigrants to Arizona and Texas and releasing them at Mexican ports of entry along the border.

The deliberations between the two nations jibe with the Obama administration's emphasis on deporting criminal illegal immigrants. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano advanced the talks with Mexico officials in February when she signed a memorandum of cooperation with them. ICE officials declined to release a copy of that memo. But they provided some details during interviews this month, saying the plans could involve year-round flights from some U.S. border states into Mexico.

"The (memo) is very broad and it is not very long," said Craig Charles, deputy assistant director for ICE's air operations.

The Mexican embassy in Washington issued a prepared statement, saying the memo signed by the two nations "is part of the broader efforts by the relevant agencies to ensure secure, orderly and humane repatriation procedures. Both countries remain committed to this objective."

The idea is not new. The federal government flew more than 102,000 illegal immigrants to the interior of Mexico over the last eight years as part of a voluntary humanitarian program designed to stop human smuggling and save lives.

Two experts on Mexican immigration and U.S.-Mexican relations sharply criticized the government's latest plan for what they called "deep repatriation." Wayne Cornelius, director emeritus of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego, said there "is absolutely no evidence that it reduces recidivism. He and David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego, said some deportees would have strong reasons to return to the United States, including jobs and families living in the States.

"It is politically attractive to do this kind of stuff," Cornelius said. "But it is essentially a waste of taxpayer money, if the objective is to keep deportees back in their places of origin."

Steven Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based group that advocates for tighter immigration controls, said such a plan could help curb illegal immigration in the United States. But he said it must be part of a broader crackdown on the problem, including blocking illegal immigrants from getting jobs and public benefits here.

"It is sort of like diet and exercise," he said. "If you want to control your weight and get this thing under control, you have got to do all these things. ... There is no silver bullet here."

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