MEXICO CITY (AP) — U.S. immigration authorities began flying deportees deep into Mexico Thursday in an effort to discourage them from trying to return, U.S. and Mexican officials said.
The first of twice-weekly flights from El Paso, Texas, to Mexico City left Thursday with 133 deportees aboard, all men.
ICE spokeswoman Nicole Navas said the flights will accommodate up to 136 men and women but no children. Deportees fly from throughout the United States to Chaparral, New Mexico, for a short bus ride to El Paso.
The flights are not voluntary, unlike a previous program to deport Mexicans arrested by the Border Patrol during Arizona's deadly summer heat. Mexico's National Migration Institute said the flights will last six months, taking place every Tuesday and Thursday, and the Mexican government will pay for returnees' travel from the Mexico City airport to their hometowns. A total of 6,800 people are expected to be returned under the program. Special accommodations are being made for minors traveling alone, Mexico said.
Under a two-month trial last year, more than 2,300 Mexicans returned on 18 flights. The U.S. and Mexico agreed in April to make the arrangement permanent.
ICE has long flown home deportees who are from countries that don't share a land border with the U.S., most commonly Central Americans. Mexicans, who account for the vast majority people living in the U.S. illegally, are traditionally sent by plane or bus to a city along the 1,954-mile (3,145-kilometer) border with Mexico.
Thursday's flight marks the beginning for regular air travel to Mexicans who are deported, a welcome development for authorities in Tijuana and other Mexican border cities who have complained they are getting overwhelmed by unemployed newcomers.
It comes as House Republicans are resisting the broadest changes to U.S. immigration laws in nearly three decades. The Senate has approved a plan that would offer a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally.
President Barack Obama has backed the proposed overhaul, while at the same time increasing deportations. His administration topped 400,000 deportations during the 2012 fiscal year.