The Bush administration and Mexico have worked out a plan to return migrants caught illegally crossing the Arizona border back to their hometowns in the country’s interior, U.S. and Mexican officials said Tuesday. Flights could start later this month. By moving the migrants deep into Mexico – instead of just over the border – U.S. officials are hoping to keep them out of the hands of smugglers and discourage other attempts at entering the United States. Border Patrol officials are hoping that thousands of migrants, weary and out of cash after a fruitless desert crossing, will volunteer to go home.
The Mexican government insisted that the so-called deep repatriation program be strictly voluntary, because Mexico’s constitution guarantees citizens the right to travel freely within its borders. Mexican consular officials will certify that each participant has voluntarily made the decision to go back. U.S. officials said they were hoping that 300 to 400 illegal migrants a week would take the offer. Washington will pay the estimated $13 million cost of air and bus transportation to their hometowns for the program. Mexican airlines will be allowed to bid on the charter flight contracts.