Immigrant processing center to open in Mesa
Comments 6
Garin Groff, Tribune

March 16, 2010 - 4:42PM

Federal immigration officials are opening a new facility in the East Valley that will handle a surge in illegal immigrants who are being deported to Central America.

The processing center at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport will serve as the final point where the immigrants will be in the U.S. before boarding a plane that takes them south.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement expects to repatriate 22,000 immigrants this year - double the number from 2006. The surge is the result of increased immigration enforcement that began about four years ago, said Mark Lenox, the deputy assistant director of ICE removal operations.

The Gateway facility can handle increased numbers in years to come, Lenox said, as immigration officials expect to deport greater numbers.

"We've definitely got room to grow," he said.

The ICE facility will open in about two weeks. The 25,000-square-foot building at Gateway features doors allowing buses to enter the building, where detainees will be kept in a holding area for up to 12 hours before boarding a plane. The immigrants will have had longer-term stays at ICE facilities in Eloy and Florence, or in other western states.

The Mesa facility is one of four in the nation where immigrants are flown out of. It will handle one or two flights a day out of the nation, with planes carrying up to 120 passengers.

It makes it easier to transfer larger numbers of immigrants out of the country by giving ICE a base in which to hold people. In the past, a bus would pull up to the tarmac and wait for a plane to arrive.

Nationwide, the U.S. repatriated about 387,000 immigrants last year, with more than 100,000 being deported by air due to the distance of their home country. The passengers flown out of Gateway will go to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, which are the largest source of illegal immigrants after Mexico.