The U.S. federal government's pilot program to deport Mexican citizens by flying them to Mexico City out of the El Paso International Airport has ended, and officials don't know yet whether it will continue.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said a total of 2,364 people were deported between Oct. 3 and Nov. 29.
"The U.S. government is working with the Mexican government's transition team (on whether) to continue this humanitarian effort," said Leticia Zamarripa, ICE spokeswoman in El Paso.
Mexico's new president, Enrique Pena Nieto, took the oath of office Saturday and only recently announced his Cabinet appointments.
Zamarripa said the pilot program, known as the Interior Repatriation Initiative,
did not affect other ICE enforcement and removal operations in the El Paso field office.
"Normal removal operations are continuing," she said.
During the pilot program, ICE officials oversaw a total of 18 deportation flights at an estimated cost of $1.1 million, which were carried out by a contract chartered air service.
A total of 1,946 of the deportees were convicted criminal Mexican nationals, most of whom were released from U.S. prisons and jails.
The 2,364 deportees ranged in age from 18 to 63, and they included three women.
Officials previously said the Interior Repatriation Initiative was designed "to carry out the humane, safe and orderly repatriation of Mexican nationals to the interior of Mexico
and ultimately to their hometowns, instead of returning them to cities on the U.S.-Mexico border."
The Mexican government was supposed to make sure the deportees were transported to their places of origin once they arrived in Mexico City.
Mexican nationals who were part of the initiative were transferred from around the United States to the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, N.M., before their departure on flights from El Paso.
Officials said that removing Mexican nationals to Mexico's interior also was part of an effort to reduce repeat attempts to illegally enter the United States, avoiding the loss of life, and to minimize the potential for exploitation of undocumented migrants by human smuggling and trafficking organizations and other criminal organizations.
Former Juarez mayors had complained that the U.S. government was "dumping" deportees in a city that was experiencing widespread drug violence, and was unable to assist the deportees financially.
Some of the men who were deported to the border city had belonged to prison gangs, and quickly linked up with counterparts in Juarez, or, if they belonged to rival gangs, became easy targets for such rivals.
"The Border Network for Human Rights is glad that the repatriation pilot is over," said Cristina Parker, spokeswoman for the advocacy organization based in El Paso. "These massive displacements of people are not the solution. We're not sure what benefits the program had. The idea was to throw money at this by dumping people farther away from the border.
"But it's not about where we take people; it's about the opportunities they see in immigrating to the United States. Under the ICE deportation program, many people who were returned to Mexico were not criminals."
Between 2004 and 2011, another initiative known as the Mexican Interior Repatriation Program operated in much the same manner as the recent pilot.
Under that program, 125,164 men and women were transported to Mexico by airplane at a cost of $90.6 million, or about $724 for each passenger.
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