The United States government is revamping a program that will fly undocumented Mexican immigrants back to Mexico City, after they've been caught entering the country illegally.
The feds claim this prevents deaths from dehydration and exhaustion from people crossing the Arizona desert during the hottest time of the year.
But activists cry foul.
Rodriguez says the real reason the program exists is to spend the left-over budget for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, so the agency can get the same exact amount or more for next year's budget.
If ICE doesn't spend every last dime, the U.S. Congress will see it as a sign that ICE is too flush with cash, and deserves a budget cut, Rodriguez insists.
But Vinnie Picard, ICE's local spokesperson, says otherwise. The program seeks to deter repeat crossings by flying illegal immigrants to Mexico City, far from the U.S.-Mexico border, where migrants would be tempted to try re-entering the U.S.
"We're breaking that link between [immigrants] and the smugglers," Picard asserts.
The program is in partnership with the Mexican government, but the U.S. picks up the bill. Last year the U.S. flew back 23,384 undocumented immigrants at a taxpayer cost of $14.8 million.
This year, the program started July 11, will run through September 28, and will have an estimated cost of $9 million to $11 million.
There is a flight everyday from Tucson. As of today 552 Mexican citizens have been flown back to their country's capital.
Rodriguez says that it is near-impossible to determine if ICE's repatriation program is actually preventing deaths, since there is no guarantee those flown back won't try again.
"Ultimately, it is a waste of taxpayer money," Rodriguez complains.
Also, sometimes bodies go years without being discovered, making it difficult to compare statistics, as well as the efficacy of ICE's repatriations via air. And since undocumented immigrants are entering unlawfully, it's hard to track how many are actually dying in the desert.
"It's different to say how many have died [as opposed to] how many bodies have been recovered," she says.
According to Derechos Humanos' website, this fiscal year, which began in October, there have been 88 bodies recovered.
That doesn't mean these individuals died during that period, that's just when their corpses were discovered.
Last fiscal year saw the second highest number of bodies recovered from the Sonoran Desert during the past decade: 253.
"It would be better using our taxpayer dollars to address why [immigrants] are coming here," Rodriguez says. "If we could understand those issues, then people might not need to come [to the U.S.]."
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