Illegal immigrants are being flown deep into Mexico to discourage dangerous desert crossings in the heat as well as to cut down on re-entry, federal officials say.
Twice-daily flights from Tucson to Mexico City are intended to keep immigrants away from border towns where they would likely run into smugglers who want to sneak them back into the U.S.
“This is where the probability of losing their lives can really increase. We offer that opportunity for them to get out of that cycle,” said John Torres, a special adviser to the assistant secretary of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security flights began last week for the sixth consecutive summer and will end Sept. 28.
Tucson is the only spot in this country where the flights depart. Arizona is the busiest illegal entry point into the United States.
Since 2004, more than 82,000 Mexicans have been returned as part of the repatriation program. The number, however, represents just a small portion of illegal immigrants in this country.
Hundreds of illegal immigrants die crossing the border each year from heat exposure, vehicle and train accidents, fatigue, banditry and other causes.
Smugglers, who can earn an average of $1,500 for each customer, use remote and dangerous migration routes where enforcement is weaker, a tactic that contributes to the deaths.
The Mexican government picks up some costs of the program, while the U.S. pays $6 million under a contract with carrier Miami Air.