- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Department of Homeland Security, beginning today, will give Mexican nationals caught in the United States the option of being returned to their home cities in a repatriation program aimed at reducing illegal border crossings and the violence tied to the smuggling of humans.

“The goal of this program is to save lives by safely returning Mexican nationals to their homes, away from the dangers of the Arizona-Sonora desert where smugglers and the harsh summer climate contribute to the deaths and injuries of illegal border crossers,” said Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson.

The program, part of an agreement between the United States and Mexico, establishes principles for a voluntary repatriation plan in which Mexican nationals will be given the option of returning to their place of origin after being apprehended in this country for illegal entry.

Mr. Hutchinson said illegal Mexican aliens can volunteer for the program, returning home via charter aircraft from Tucson, Ariz., to either Mexico City or Guadalajara. He said bus transportation will then be provided to their final destination.

The Mexican government will support the program by increasing its consular presence in Arizona, Mr. Hutchinson said, noting that the overall plan will be administered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

He said the U.S. consul in Nogales, Mexico, will coordinate repatriation requirements with the Mexican consul in Nogales, Ariz.

The U.S. government has pursued the repatriation program in an attempt to return illegal aliens caught in this country to Mexico’s interior, where it would be less likely they would attempt to re-enter the United States.

Many captured illegal aliens now transported to various border communities, according to law-enforcement authorities, often find it easier and more economical to re-enter the United States instead of trying to return home to Mexico’s interior.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and a member of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on border security, immigration and citizenship, said the program shows that Homeland Security has “recognized that the only sensible way to meet both the concerns of border communities and the humanitarian interests of repatriation is to develop a workable program for internal repatriation.”

“DHS recognized that apprehended immigrants must be provided a secure re-entry point to their country, away from the ‘coyotes’ prevalent in many border towns, and Texas border communities must not be faced with the additional economic and security burdens of last year’s lateral repatriation pilot program,” Mr. Cornyn said.

He noted that the lateral repatriation program sent more than 6,000 Mexican nationals apprehended in Arizona to be repatriated through Texas border communities, creating what he described as “unfair burdens” on many border towns.

According to Homeland Security officials, the new repatriation agreement ensures that Mexican nationals will be repatriated in a “safe, humane and dignified manner,” that aliens charged with a crime other than illegal entry are not eligible for the program, and that Homeland Security officers will not handcuff or restrain Mexican nationals repatriated under this program unless exceptional safety conditions warrant it in an individual case.

Mr. Hutchinson said aliens who decline repatriation to their place of origin in the interior of Mexico will be repatriated to the northern border of Mexico “through regular means,” which would include air transportation to a city on the U.S.-Mexican border, usually Nogales, Mexico.

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