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  1. #1
    Arizonaman2008's Avatar
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    Jan 1970
    Phoenix, Arizona

    Bush policy turns Mesa airport into deportation hub

    Bush policy turns Mesa airport into deportation hub

    Daniel Gonzalez
    The Arizona Republic
    Mar. 4, 2007 12:00 AM

    MESA - One by one the immigration detainees stepped off buses onto the tarmac as dawn broke one recent chilly morning. After deputy U.S. marshals pat searched each one, the detainees climbed single file aboard a large unmarked jetliner waiting nearby.

    With all 118 aboard, the engines roared to life. Some passengers pressed their faces against the oval windows, snatching a last glimpse of the United States before being deported to Honduras and Guatemala.

    The scene is repeated almost daily at Williams Gateway Airport, the busiest air deportation hub in the nation, as the federal government ramps up efforts to quickly deport record numbers of non-Mexican undocumented immigrants to their home countries. advertisement

    The taxpayer-funded flights have helped cut deportation times by months, removing about 51,300 non-Mexicans from Oct. 1, 2005 to Sept. 30, 2006, mostly to countries in Central and South America, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

    The flights, part of the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System, have been key to ending the government's long-standing policy of releasing thousands of non-Mexicans into the U.S. pending immigration hearings and serve as a deterrent to illegal immigration, officials say.

    Analysts say the flights are also central to President Bush's political efforts to curry favor with hard- liners in hopes of coaxing a comprehensive immigration bill out of Congress. The flights are expected to increase as the administration pushes for stronger enforcement.

    The flights already have increased fivefold since 2001. They carried more than 116,000 passengers last fiscal year, enough to rival some small U.S. airlines. That total consists of the 51,300 non-Mexican deportations and 64,700 undocumented immigrants flown from the interior of the U.S. to centers like the one in Mesa to be deported.

    The program is costly. In fiscal year 2006, ICE officials say the agency spent more than $70 million flying undocumented immigrants home or to the border. In addition, an October inspector general's report sampling flights from Mesa and other air deportation hubs found planes that frequently flew less than half full.

    End to 'catch-and-release'

    President Bush has vowed to end "catch-and-release," the practice of arresting non-Mexican undocumented immigrants, processing them and then releasing them here pending immigration hearings.

    More than 85 percent of the undocumented immigrants caught by the Border Patrol crossing the southern border are Mexicans. Most are sent back home within 24 hours.

    But sending undocumented immigrants from other countries back home isn't as easy. In the past, the government often lacked enough detention space to hold them while legal paperwork was processed. So non-Mexicans were simply freed and told to return later for court hearings. Catch-and-release was common practice for decades.

    The problem peaked in 2003 and 2004. Thousands of undocumented immigrants from Brazil and Central America started flooding across the Arizona and Texas borders. Most disappeared after being released.

    In 2004, to help end catch-and-release, the government began subjecting virtually all non-Mexicans caught near the border to "expedited removal." The policy allows the government to deport undocumented immigrants without judicial hearings unless they demonstrate a credible fear of returning to their country.

    The expedited removals have greatly cut the deportation time for non-Mexicans, from several months to a few weeks. They also have fueled a demand to fly non-Mexicans back to their home countries as quickly as possible to clear space in crowded detention centers.

    Immigration officials say catch-and-release is now history, thanks in large part to the stepped-up deportation flights, along with added detention space.

    "Now, within 16 days they are gone," said David Kollus, who oversees the deportation flights for ICE in Arizona.

    ICE officials project that air transportation of undocumented immigrants will increase 10 to 15 percent this year, as the Bush administration pushes for greater enforcement of immigration laws leading to more arrests of undocumented immigrants.

    In the past year, ICE has launched crackdowns on employers of undocumented immigrants that have led to more than 4,000 arrests.

    Analysts say Bush is trying to persuade Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform by demonstrating that immigration laws are being vigorously enforced.

    "Clearly the president decided sometime last year that if he was going to get his comprehensive immigration package moving, he would have to show more activity in the enforcement realm," said David Martin, an immigration law professor at the University of Virginia.

    Deterrent factor

    Undocumented immigrants are less likely to cross if they know they will be quickly sent home rather than set free pending immigration hearings, ICE officials in Washington, D.C., and Arizona say. As a result, the rapid deportation of non-Mexicans is helping deter illegal immigration.

    Arrests of non-Mexicans by Border Patrol agents in the Tucson sector, the nation's busiest, dropped from 12,661 in fiscal 2005 to 9,449 last year. They made up only a fraction of the 392,074 apprehensions made in the Tucson sector last year.

    Take, for example, Eduardo Gonzalez Medrano. Seated at a table in a detention center in Florence, the 38-year-old undocumented immigrant from Guatemala said he would not try to return to the U.S. illegally.

    Gonzalez Medrano was caught by the Border Patrol on Feb. 7 after crossing with a group of 70 near Sasabe and walking three days through the desert. He had hoped to get a job cleaning offices through friends in Miami and had paid a smuggler $5,300.

    Now, he was anxious to get home to his wife and four children in La Arada, a town in rural Guatemala.

    "I want my deportation as quickly as possible because I'm sure my family is very worried," he said. "They have no idea what happened to me, if I died in the desert or what."

    Victoria Lopez, executive director of the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, said she fears immigrants who may qualify for asylum or legal status are being swept up in the expedited removal process.

    "Once that happens, they are on the next (deportation) flight," she said.

    On a recent Wednesday, two ICE agents armed with automatic rifles stood guard on both sides of a 127-seat jetliner while immigration detainees boarded in the predawn darkness. The plane was parked on the tarmac at Williams Gateway.

    The former military base in Mesa and an airport in Alexandria, La., are the only major air transportation hubs in the U.S. for deporting non-Mexicans to their home countries.

    The deportation flights date back at least to the 1980s. Since 1995, they have been managed by the U.S. Marshals Service. The agency operates out of a nondescript building next to the tarmac.

    Deportations at the Mesa airport have skyrocketed in the past three years, from about 6,150 in fiscal year 2003 to about 15,914 last year. ICE officials say that is because Arizona is the country's main crossing point for undocumented immigrants along the southern border and has two large detention centers in Florence and Eloy. The facilities hold up to 2,800 undocumented immigrants daily.

    Flights leave every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and sometimes on Saturday. Twice daily, flights also take off to pick up undocumented immigrants captured in other states in the West and bring them to Arizona.

    Planes half full

    On this particular day, the 118 undocumented immigrants being deported included 40 Hondurans and 78 Guatemalans. Among them were 30 charged with committing crimes in the U.S. Their handcuffs and ankle shackles distinguished them from the remaining 88 captured by the Border Patrol after entering the U.S. illegally.

    The group of 118 nearly filled the aircraft. However, an October inspector general's report that sampled flights in 2004 and 2005 found deportation planes leaving the Mesa airport were frequently less than half full.

    The report also found that planes sometimes flew with an inadequate number of security guards on board and that security crews at hangars were chronically understaffed.

    Pablo Campos, who oversees the air transportation system for ICE in Washington, D.C., said the agency tries to keep deportation flights full by making stops in several countries when there are not enough from one country to fill the aircraft. The flights are known as milk runs, Campos said.

    But immigration officials say filling every flight isn't always possible. Top priority is given to removing undocumented immigrants from the U.S. quickly in order to clear space in detention centers. And some countries limit the number of undocumented immigrants with criminal records they will receive at one time.

    "We are responding to daily needs and requests," Campos said.

  2. #2
    Arizonaman2008's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 1970
    Phoenix, Arizona
    This facility is about 10 minutes from my house. Once in awhile I have to wait in line to take off in the morning in my Cessna behind their aircraft. They currently have three at this airport used for deportation. You see the buses usually start arriving around 5:30AM.

    A couple of weeks ago they announced they are building a 50,000 Sq. Ft. facility at the airport to be able to better detain a larger number of deportees prior to them leaving on a free flight home.

    I will be flying out of there early Monday morning so I will check on that and see if their is any new ground breaking on this facility as I haven't been flying in about a month.

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