- The Washington Times - Friday, June 10, 2005

The Department of Homeland Security and the government of Mexico yesterday began the second year of a repatriation program that calls for the return of illegal aliens caught in the United States to Mexico City on a voluntary basis.

More than 14,000 Mexican nationals were returned to Mexico’s interior last year, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials, responsible for guarding America’s borders, are hopeful that efforts at voluntary repatriation this year will add to that number.

The plan, known as the Interior Repatriation Program (IRP), returns detained illegal aliens to Mexico’s interior rather than to towns along the U.S.-Mexico border as part of an effort to both control the Southwest border and to save the lives of those who might try again to cross the desert areas of the Southwest to regain entry to the United States.

Many detained illegal aliens who are now returned to various border communities after their capture in this country often find it easier and more economical to re-enter the United States rather than return home to Mexico’s interior, authorities said.

Of the 1.15 million illegal aliens apprehended last year by the U.S. Border Patrol, a Department of Homeland Security agency within CBP, the vast majority of them were Mexican nationals and more than half of them were detained along the Arizona-Mexico border — particularly a 260-mile section of Arizona’s southeast known as the Tucson sector.

Border Patrol spokesman Mario Villarreal described the program as a collaborative effort with the Mexican government that is intended to “save migrant lives and stop the dangerous cycle of alien smuggling and human trafficking.”

The IRP allows detained illegals from Mexico to volunteer to be returned home on board a charter aircraft from Tucson, Ariz., to Mexico City, where they are then provided bus transportation to a location nearest their home cities.

“Returning illegal aliens to the interior of Mexico allows us to disrupt the inhumane and often callous human smuggling organizations that operate along the border area,” said CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner, who oversees the Border Patrol.

“This is a crucial, integral component of the Department of Homeland Security’s Arizona Border Control Initiative to gain greater operational control and to save lives in dangerous traffic areas along the border with Mexico,” Mr. Bonner said.

The Arizona Border Control initiative, now in its second phase of operation, is a law-enforcement effort involving federal, state and local agencies working together. More than 2,000 Border Patrol agents are now assigned in the Tucson sector, where apprehensions last year averaged more than 1,500 a day.

The IRP will continuously be monitored and evaluated by both governments throughout the summer, Mr. Villarreal said, adding that at its conclusion, Mexico and the United States will bilaterally provide an assessment of the program, make recommendations and determine whether it should be continued.

Both countries have agreed to remove and accept up to 300 illegal aliens per day, with only Mexican nationals eligible to participate. Apprehended illegal aliens with felony convictions will not be allowed to take part in the program, and those who are included cannot be separated from their family members.

If the entire family does not wish to participate, then no one in the family will be eligible, Mr. Villarreal said, adding that unaccompanied minors also will not be allowed to participate in the program.

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