- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The U.S. and Mexican governments have renewed a repatriation program to guarantee the “safe, effective and humanitarian return” of Mexican nationals illegally in the U.S. to their hometowns in Mexico’s interior.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the first repatriation flight in the seasonal program departed Monday from Tucson International Airport in Arizona with 75 Mexican nationals who volunteered to be repatriated. The program is scheduled to continue until Sept. 30.

“By quickly returning aliens to the interior of Mexico rather than to the Mexican border, both nations seek to save lives and discourage additional illegal border crossings through hostile, desert terrain,” said John Torres, director of ICE’s Office of Detention and Removal Operations.

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ICE spokeswoman Kadia H. Koroma said that July, August and September present the most severe climate conditions for persons illegally crossing the desert between Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora. She said U.S. and Mexican authorities recognized that the practice of removing illegals back across the border left many of them prey to alien smugglers to make the trip again — despite the severe heat.

In 2003, the U.S. and Mexico designated the border south and west of Tucson as a “high risk” area under the binational Border Safety Initiative. Both governments continue to administer the voluntary program in a bid to reduce the loss of life during the summer heat, deter illegal entry and control the violence associated with it.

Ms. Koroma said a 2004 memorandum of understanding between the Department of Homeland Security and the Mexican government established the framework for the nations to work cooperatively in safely repatriating Mexican nationals who volunteer to leave the U.S.

Only non-criminal Mexican nationals are eligible for the program, she said, which includes those with final orders of removal from other ICE offices around the country. It also includes Mexican nationals processed for expedited removal and Mexican nationals whose age, physical condition or travel status render them more likely to fall victim to the heat or border criminals.

Ms. Koroma said that in the past three summers, U.S. and Mexican officials have returned 49,410 Mexican nationals from the Arizona-Sonora desert to their hometowns in Mexico’s interior. In 2006, she said, ICE repatriated 15,348 Mexican nationals between July and September.

ICE’s Air Transportation Unit is responsible for providing oversight and coordination of two daily flights, each carrying 120 passengers from Tucson International Airport. Under the initiative, those who volunteer to participate in the program are flown to Mexico City and provided bus transportation to their places of origin in the interior of Mexico.

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