Sending Mexican nationals apprehended at the border back to the interior of Mexico is, of course, a good idea. It puts them back in, or at least near, their home communities, which presumably discourages, but does not eliminate, further attempts to cross the border illegally.
Routinely, Mexican nationals caught near the border are simply taken back to the nearest port of entry, and released into Mexico, where they are free to try to cross again the next night.
Interior repatriation means that the individuals are not only being sent back, but set back, in their effort to come to the U.S. It is exactly what we do when we deport people from every other country in the world, except maybe Canada. We send them off in an airplane that lands in the middle of their native country.
It is in this context that I want to look at the renewal, as of the start of June, of ICE's annual summer-time revival of its partial, time-limited, voluntary interior repatriation program.
It is available to a narrow array of Mexican illegal aliens who:
- volunteer for a U.S.-funded airplane ride back home,
- apparently live in the interior of Mexico, not at the border
- get caught on the Mexico-Arizona border,
- do so in the June-September period, and
- do not have a criminal record.
The program only operates for two Border Patrol sectors, those at Yuma and Tucson; this covers the busiest part of the border for illegal immigration.
There are two flights a day, seven days a week, from Tucson to Mexico City; bus tickets from Mexico City to other locations in Mexico are available as well. The individual goes through a medical screening on this side of the border, is fingerprinted and interviewed by the Border Patrol, is probably fed a couple of good meals, and then bussed to the Tucson airport.
ICE announced the revival of the Mexican Interior Repatriation Program on June 3. It carries the awkward but presumably inevitable initials of MIRP.
ICE announced that "more than 93,000 Mexican nationals have been safely returned under MIRP over the program’s previous six summers."
The numerical concept would probably be better stated this way: "on more than 93,000 occasions Mexican nationals have been returned." ICE is presumably counting the number of seats occupied, and ignoring double- and triple-tripping by a minority of those transported, a variable that does not worry me.
However defined, the 93,000 number is both important and small; divide it by six and you get an average of 15,500 passenger trips a year. In comparison, during all of FY 2009 more than 500,000 apprehensions were made at the southern border.
This program, in short, deals with about 3 percent of the apprehended illegals and, I would suggest, all drawn from the weakest, unluckiest, least-threatening subset of the captured illegal aliens, who in turn are the weakest, least lucky of the larger population trying to cross the border illegally. The MIRP people, in short, are losers; people, who, understandably do not want to try to cross the Arizona dessert again in the middle of the hot summer.
It is commendable that we are flying them back to the interior, but it is as much a welfare program for unlucky Mexicans as it is a migration-control program. I think it should be continued, for it probably does nibble a bit at the number of illegals coming to the U.S., as well as save some Mexican nationals from death in the dessert. But it should not be thought of as a significant part of an enforcement program.
The ICE announcement does serve another purpose – it underlines the fact that no recent American government has been gutsy enough, or interested enough in illegal immigration, to force Mexico to accept interior repatriation of its citizens, living in the interior, who spill over our borders in such numbers.
Such a program would cost the Treasury far less than slapping an automatic, say, two-month prison sentence on everyone caught sneaking into the country, but the political and diplomatic costs of mandatory interior repatriation are the perceived costs that seem to move our various administrations.