In September, the federal government began shipping thousands of illegal immigrants from Arizona, where they were caught, to Texas, where they were deported. This “lateral repatriation program” was pointless, costly to taxpayers and needlessly cruel — and it’s still around.
The Department of Homeland Security, the parent organization of Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, flew more than 6,000 illegal immigrants to Texas border cities for deportation during the one-month pilot program.
Federal officials declared it a success. And it is — if something illogical, wasteful and unnecessarily cruel can be called successful.
Under the program, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection used chartered aircraft — at $28,000 a flight, plus fuel — to transport undocumented immigrants from where they were captured in the Tucson sector and flew them to McAllen, Brownsville, Del Rio, El Paso and Laredo in Texas. Once they arrived in Texas, officials fed them lunch and sent them back across the border.
With each flight carrying about 150 undocumented immigrants, the cost for the lateral repatriation trial run was more than $1.2 million, in addition to costs for supervising, feeding and busing the detainees once they arrived in Texas. Compare that to a quick return across the border in Arizona, and it’s easy to see how tax money is being squandered.
The Border Patrol said that by deporting them from Texas instead of Arizona, it would cut down on the number of immigrants who die of exposure in the Sonoran Desert. Officials have a point — there were no immigration-related deaths in Arizona during the program’s trial run in September.
All the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection did was shift the flow of illegal immigrants east to Texas, and it dropped these migrants, many of whom had no money, on the other side of Mexico from which they entered, far from anyone they knew or any means of support. Officials in Mexican border cities across from Texas said they weren’t ready for the additional influx of deportees.
Although the policy of lateral repatriation might make sense to Bureau of Customs and Border Protection officials in Washington, it doesn’t add up for the people who have to deal with these immigrants. Immigrant advocacy groups, the Mexican government, local officials on both sides of the Rio Grande and members of Congress have all objected to the program, which appears vindictive and mean-spirited.
Control of our borders is a vital security issue, but having one sector of the Border Patrol dump its problems in another sector won’t solve the overall problem of illegal immigration. As long as American companies and consumers benefit from the cheap labor, undocumented workers will keep coming into this nation. To fix this problem, we need Congress to take on real immigration reform.
Until then, however, policymakers should realize the lateral repatriation program doesn’t solve anything. If the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection won’t end the program on its own, Congress should put a halt to it.