Will DHS Secretary Talk about Interior Repatriation When She's in Mexico?

By David North on February 13, 2010

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will be in Mexico City February 16-18 for talks on airline security, according to a DHS press release.

While she's there will she raise the issue of interior repatriation of the illegal aliens caught at the U.S./ Mexico border? Probably not, and that's a shame. (The word immigration is not mentioned in the press release.)

Interior repatriation is the term used by the Border Patrol for sending people caught at the border back to the interior of Mexico, to somewhere near their homes. This is different from what normally happens, which is that the apprehended Mexican nationals are kept briefly in a detention facility then taken back across the border the next morning, usually within a few miles from where they had sought to enter the U.S.

Then, in most instances, they try again the next night.

And, in most cases, after an attempt or two they make it.

The U.S. government, historically, has felt that it could not put Mexican nationals on a plane or bus, against their will, and send them back to the interior of Mexico. The same U.S. government deports people from other nations back to their homelands, but shipping the Mexican nationals back without going through the deportation process has been a no-no.

Some 15 or 20 years ago – and I have no documentation for this – the Border Patrol ran an experiment; it fingerprinted a substantial number of EWIs caught at the border, offered a free plane trip back home, which was accepted by some, but not by others, and then checked the first set of prints against people caught on the following days and weeks.

To no one's surprise, those flown home to the interior were much less likely to be caught at the border than the ones simply dumped on the other side of the line. But just because such a program makes sense does not mean that it gets adopted.

When I was doing my first research along the border 40 years ago I heard that many years before that there had been another experiment, perhaps without the blessing of the Mexican government. Illegals caught near Brownsville, Texas, a port, were put on a ship heading to Tampico, a major Mexican port – with interior repatriation the objective. I think President Eisenhower's West Point classmate, Gen. Joseph May Swing, was the INS Commissioner at the time.

Unfortunately, while many Mexican nationals wade the Rio Grande, many of them cannot swim. Some of those on the Tampico-bound ship, probably on a ship for the first time in their lives, jumped overboard as the ship left the dock, and some drowned. To the best of my knowledge, this experiment was never tried again, which is probably a good thing.

From time to time Mexico has had major financial crises, such as the one in 1982 and I always felt that at a time the U.S. was bailing out the Mexican economy, it should have asked in return to impose interior repatriation at the border, but it never happened.

Secretary Napolitano will probably preserve the government's dismal record on this issue.