Enforcement Program Stifled 2001-02 Illegal Central American Flow

By Jessica M. Vaughan on July 23, 2014

A new Center video interview with Hipolito Acosta, a retired senior U.S. immigration official, describes a successful program in which nearly 80,000 U.S.-bound migrants from Central America were intercepted in Mexico over 12-months in 2001-02. U.S. immigration agents worked with Mexican and Central American governments to repatriate the migrants and arrest smugglers. As a result, U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions of illegal crossers from Central America were reduced by 76 percent over the period. The program cost $1.6 million – but saved the U.S. government hundreds of millions of dollars in enforcement spending by preventing the illegal crossings from occurring. The Department of Homeland Security should adopt a similar program aimed at prevention and deterrence to address the current surge of illegal families and children.

View the entire interview.

Known as Operation Bus Bound, this effort was undertaken from July 20, 2001, to June 13, 2002. U.S. agents helped coordinate the arrest of migrants by Mexican authorities, and their repatriation to their home countries in Central America. The Mexican government paid for buses to transport the migrants to the Mexico-Guatemala border, and the U.S. government paid for transportation from that border to the migrants’ countries of origin. Acosta notes that the swift repatriation made it more costly and difficult to repeat the attempt to cross through Mexico and less likely that the migrant would try again.

An average of 315 migrants were apprehended every day, for a total of 79,685, or about triple the number apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol in that period. As in the current surge, most of the migrants were from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, with significant numbers also from Ecuador. In addition, the authorities arrested north-bound migrants from Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and India.

Officials estimate that about 10 percent of those arrested had been deported from the United States previously or had a criminal record. The percentage of prior deportees and criminal aliens apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border is between 25 and 30 percent today.

Operation Bus Bound cost the U.S. government about $20 per repatriated migrant. Acosta estimates that if these migrants had been apprehended by the Border Patrol at the U.S. border, it would have cost about $2,700 per migrant to remove them. President Obama has requested $3.7 billion to process the estimated 200,000 new arrivals from Central America expected in this fiscal year.

View more details available on this Operation Bus Bound PowerPoint.