by Jason Hopkins
The U.S. has begun deporting Mexican nationals deep into the interior of their country, making illegal reentry that much more difficult — and immigration enforcement officials have not ruled out deporting them as far as Guatemala.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the government of Mexico announced the relaunch of the Interior Repatriation Initiative Thursday. Under the auspices of the agreement, ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations will fly Mexican nationals hundreds of miles within Mexican territory, in lieu of simply repatriating them a few miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.
U.S. immigration officials stated the program will not only reduce recidivism among illegal immigrants, but it will also make them safer by not releasing them into dangerous border towns.
“The Interior Repatriation Initiative (IRI) reflects our commitment and ongoing bilateral effort with the government of Mexico to ensure strong, humane and effective enforcement of both nations’ immigration laws,” ICE acting Director Matt Albence said in a Thursday statement. “The protocols we have in place for IRI flights continue to ensure that those repatriated to Mexico are returned in a safe and expeditious manner, and closer to their homes, to discourage future attempts to cross the border.”
ICE officials will fly Mexican nationals deemed removable to the Guadalajara International Airport, which is located deep within central Mexico and hundreds of miles away from the U.S. border. From there, the Mexican government will help the repatriated individuals return to their cities of origin.
IRI has already begun, with the first repatriation flight of this year taking place Thursday from the Tucson International Airport in Arizona. The flight carried roughly 150 Mexican nationals who were ordered to be removed, according to ICE.
“This action disrupts the smuggling cycle by removing Mexican nationals from the border where they would be targeted by criminal gangs and smuggling organizations,” acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said Thursday. “This is one more initiative that restores integrity to our immigration system.”
This is actually not the genesis of IRI. It was first launched as a pilot program about seven years ago and then became a permanent initiative in April 2013.
The restart of the program comes as the Trump administration, having substantially lowered illegal immigration from Central American family units, is forced to refocus its efforts as Mexican nationals begin to make up a larger share of those illegally crossing into the U.S.
October marked the first month in over a year where the majority of border enforcement actions concerned Mexican nationals rather than Central Americans. Morgan attributed this shift to a change in tactics by human smuggling cartels who are forced to readjust to U.S. enforcement policies.
In what would be a major development for the asylum agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, Trump administration officials say they may soon begin deporting Mexican nationals all the way to Guatemala.
“The United States and the Government of Guatemala are working closely together to continue implementation of the Asylum Cooperative Agreement,” acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli tweeted. “We are building protections that will be available to the region’s vulnerable populations closer to home … eliminating the need to make the dangerous journey north and lining the pockets of transnational criminal organizations.”
“As we fully implement the agreement, all populations are being considered, including Mexican nationals,” Cuccinelli continued.
– – –
Jason Hopkins is a reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation.