The United States and Mexico have resumed a costly and controversial program to fly undocumented Mexican border crossers caught along the Arizona border back to the interior of Mexico. U.S. and Mexican officials hope the flights will prevent migrants — who often lack funds for a return trip by the time they reach the border — from risking additional crossings.
While the U.S. Border Patrol typically releases apprehended migrants into nearby border communities, the Interior Repatriation Program offers migrants a free flight back to Mexico City. From there, they are bused to locations near their hometowns, often in the country's southern regions. The program only applies to Mexican nationals.
The flights, from Tucson, Arizona, to Mexico City resumed June 10 after an initial pilot program concluded last summer. The current program will run until September 30, spanning the summer months when temperatures in the Sonoran desert straddling the Arizona-Mexico border can reach over 100ºF.
The cost of last year's program totaled $15.4 million for the U.S. and $224,070 for Mexico. Of that, $14.3 million was spent on chartering commercial flights for 14,097 people at a typical cost of $1,000 per one-way trip.
This year, officials pledge to limit costs to $400 per ticket while doubling the number of returned migrants to 34,000. The projected cost across a four-month period is $14.2 million.
Critics of the program call it a costly band-aid that does little to keep migrants from recrossing in hopes of work.
Critics also note 10 percent of the program participants were arrested attempting reentry before the program's 2004 end. Border Patrol officials note an average relapse rate of 32 percent during the same period.
Officials maintain that the program has been significant in decreasing the death toll among border crossers, and that the program will focus on "at risk" people who appear too weak to attempt another crossing, including minors, the elderly, and pregnant women.
According to an evaluation report, 30 heat-related deaths occurred in the Arizona-Mexico border area during the program's 2004 run, substantially fewer than the 108 heat-related deaths during the same time in 2003. Some activists challenge the significance of these numbers by noting the summer of 2004 was milder.
Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and John Cornyn (R-TX) have publicly released plans for the enforcement section of an upcoming immigration bill. The section aims to boost border security and law enforcement, and streamline deportation procedures.
The bill will provide an alternative to the Secure America Orderly Immigration Act introduced to Congress one month ago by Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Kennedy (D-MA). Senators Cornyn and Kyl expect to introduce the full bill to Congress by early July.
The Cornyn-Kyl bill calls for 10,000 new Border Patrol agents, 1,000 new immigration inspectors, at least $500 million each year until 2010 for technological improvements at the border, and an additional $500 million a year for improved border infrastructure.
The bill also looks to bolster worksite enforcement, calling on the Department of Homeland Security to maintain a system for employers to verify their employees' citizen status, and increasing fines for hiring illegal immigrants.
The Senators' full bill will include a plan for a guest worker program, which the sponsors argue will more closely follow the principles outlined by the President than the McCain-Kennedy proposal.
According to White House advisers, President Bush also plans to announce a new immigration initiative later this summer. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay met with the President on June 9, and announced that President Bush plans to clarify his stance on immigration reform proposals.
DeLay said he and the President agree that immigrants participating in a temporary work program should be allowed to apply for permanent resident status, but that those who are in the country without documentation should not be given priority over people waiting to enter the country legally. Earlier statements by Bush indicated that this means applications would be processed in the order in which they are received.
DeLay revealed that Bush was resistant to a comprehensive immigration bill, believing his goals would be better attained with smaller bills addressing border security and a guest-worker program separately.
A rising number of immigration charges filed against Muslims and Arabs point to a trend of federal investigators' use of immigration law to further national security investigations, according to a recent Washington Post report based on interviews with DHS officials and profiles of immigrants involved in such cases. In the past two years, authorities have filed such charges against over 500 individuals, some of whom have ultimately been found to have no connection to terrorist activity.
Officials maintain the use of immigration law is a vital tool for combating terrorism; immigration law has also been used effectively against drug trafficking. Some activists and lawyers argue that the practice targets Muslims and Arabs with a zero-tolerance immigration enforcement policy without holding other groups to the same scrutiny.
Authorities also rely on immigration charges rather than terrorism charges as a way to limit revealing information in court that might damage other terrorism investigations. Such cases have been argued before both immigration and criminal courts. Immigration court case defendants are not guaranteed all the same rights as those in criminal hearings, such as the right to an attorney.
DHS and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents work together through a Joint Terrorism Task Force to address cases involving immigration law violators in national security investigations. The size of the task force has grown to 200 immigration law enforcement agents from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, up from merely 50 before the September 11 attacks.
Passport Requirements Delayed. The deadline for countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to include data chips in their passports has been rolled back one year to October 26, 2006. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff made the announcement in June. The data chips would open the possibility of storing biometric information such as fingerprints or iris scans in the passports at a later date. VWP countries, whose nationals are allowed to enter the U.S. without a visa for up to 90 days, must submit their passport plans to DHS by September 1, 2006. Visitors from VWP countries must carry a machine readable passport as of June 26, and countries must issue passports with digital photographs beginning October 26, 2005.
Human Trafficking. Four countries — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates — face the possibility of sanctions by the U.S. government due to their failure to combat forced labor trafficking. These developments are guided by the June release of the State Department's fifth annual "Trafficking in Persons Report." Mandated through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the report catalogues the human trafficking situations of 150 countries. It also evaluates government efforts, categorizing countries into tiers that guide U.S. sanctions policies.
U.S. Census Report. Hispanics have accounted for nearly half of the 2.9 million person growth in the U.S. population since 2000 and now constitute one-seventh of the U.S. population, according to a new U.S. Census report. Births have overtaken immigration as the largest source of growth of the Hispanic population. The Census Bureau released these findings as a part of its Population Estimates Program, which publishes total resident population estimates and demographic changes each year.