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MEXICO: Does U.S. deportation program put migrants in harm's way?

September 29, 2011 |  4:39 pm

Migrants latimes

 REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- In an effort to further discourage illegal crossers, the United States says it has found success in the practice of transferring illegal immigrants and deporting them at a border crossing far from where they initially entered the United States, The Times reports.

But does the practice place undocumented migrants in harm's way when they are sent to a region of Mexico that is not familiar to them?

Under the strategy, deportees are often flown hundreds of miles from where they illegally entered the country and returned to Mexico through another port of entry, preventing them from reconnecting with human smugglers and attempting the crossing once more. 

Some, for example, have been apprehended in Texas and then transferred and deported through Calexico, Calif., Richard Marosi reports in The Times. U.S. customs authorities say the Alien Transfer Exit Program, as it is called, "breaks the smuggling cycle." 

It also brings to mind a troubling headline that largely slipped below the radar this summer.

In June, dozens of illegal immigrants held at a private detention facility in New Mexico wrote letters to a border activist group pleading for help to avoid being transferred and deported through Texas, which they said would place their lives in danger.

The Zetas cartel is said to control human and drug smuggling through much of northeastern Mexico, across from Texas, and is also known to commit atrocities against migrants making passage through the region. Zetas are believed to have massacred 72 mostly Central American migrants last year in a town in Tamaulipas state, in a case that drew international reproach.

They're also suspected in the hijacking of low-cost buses that run through the area, which may be connected to the many mass graves  that have turned up hundreds of bodies in Mexico's northern region, as The Times has reported. Cartels also practice forced recruitment of migrants, even slavery, Mexican authorities and immigrant advocates have said. (Links in Spanish.)

The number of migrants held at the Torrance County Detention Facility in New Mexico and who asked not to be deported through Texas this summer eventually reached 52, said Hannah Hafter, a coordinator for the No More Deaths project in Nogales, Ariz. 

"As far as I can tell, at this point all have served their sentences and been deported," Hafter said in an email message Thursday. It was not clear whether these migrants were deported to the Mexican state of Sonora, as some requested, or elsewhere.

"Since that time, we have not heard from any of them and have not had the capacity to follow up," she added. "To me, it demonstrates a severe inflexibility in the system including at the risk of human life."

In a statement to No More Deaths, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency had said,  "While ICE recognizes the current situation relating to violence in Mexico, the agency is not in the practice of allowing detainees to request repatriation to specific locations in Mexico."

ALSO:

Internal migration flows below the radar in Mexico

Detention centers isolate illegal immigrants and deny them rights, report says

-- Daniel Hernandez

Photo: Immigrants who crossed the border in Texas decide what to do after being deported from California into Mexicali, Mexico. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times / Sept. 20, 2011

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