Reporting for the Big Bend Sentinel, Sterry Butcher reported on the US Department of Homeland Security’s new mass deportation program taking place in Presidio, Texas.
On Nov 1, Homeland Security and Border Patrol began transferring 94 undocumented men a day from Tucson, AZ Sector to Presidio under the guise of cracking down on human smuggling. The Alien Transfer and Exit Program (ATEP) is an effort by Border Patrol to disrupt human smuggling in the Tucson Sector. The program will bus Mexican men ages 20 to 60 from Arizona to Presidio and force them to cross the Presidioâ€“Ojinaga International Bridge to Ojinaga, Chihuahua by foot, where they may find temporary shelter. So far nearly 700 Mexican detainees have been dropped off at the in Presidio, TX.
Talking about the program, Marfa Sector Chief Patrol Agent John Smeitana said:
“This is designed to break the smuggling cycle between the smugglers and the aliens who pay them,â€ he said. â€œIt will continue until we break the cycle.”
However, not everybody is pleased with the program. Both Gov. Rick Perry and the Mexican Government have problems with this program and are urging the federal government to stop it.
“….turning the Presidio area into a way station for illegal immigrants adds responsibility to local authorities and holds the potential of increasing the strain on local and state infrastructure and resources.”
“This plan will increase the likelihood that these individuals will immediately cross back into Texas, which is already bearing an uneven burden in dealing with immigration and border security issues along the Texas-Mexico border.”
Before Border Patrol’s repatriation plan began, Mexican officials had expressed their concern, but were ignored. Critics of the program worried that the detainees may stay in Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Presidio’s Mexican sister city, without a place to stay.
“Mexican authorities through my embassy in Washington, D.C. have been trying to negotiate,” the Mexican Consul in Presidio Hector Raul Acosta Flores told the Sentinel. “We were not agreeing that repatriation take place through this port of exit due to the conditions of the region on both sides of the border. Nevertheless, they’ve started the program. And we have to coordinate for the benefit of our nationals and provide them with assistance.”
Luckily, the Mexican government have stepped in by providing the immigrants with bus tickets to their home of origin. The bus company Transportes Chihuahuenses is offering a 50 percent discount for the detainee program.
The economic crisis has preempted any immigration reform that regularizes the status of unauthorized immigrants. Nevertheless, immigrants continue to be a principal target of the government’s long-running wars on crime and drugs. Rather than echoing the ideological restrictionist of the right, the Obama administration and Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano has finessed the existing system by arguing it is simply upholding the “rule of law” by consistently enforcing immigration statutes and securing the border.
The rule of law that now exists is a tangible set of policies created and implemented by DHS, to which undocumented immigrants are expected to conform. Masked in the neutral, apolitical rhetoric, programs like ATEP become a tool to achieve a means to an end.
Removing “criminal aliens” from America’s streets has become a new priority. This year, President Obama’s requested 2010 budget includes $1.4 billion for collaborative programs to deport “criminal aliens.” But in the hunt for criminal aliens DHS has not only increasingly stretched the definition of crime but arrested more “collateral” immigrants than those categorized as criminals.
There is no doubt that the United States has the right to control who enters its borders and who becomes a citizen. However, these programs have put a huge strain on impoverished immigrants, which have result in more deaths. In a recent ACLU report, “Humanitarian Crisis: Migrant Deaths at the U.S.-Mexico Border,” more than 5,000 people have died since Operation Gatekeeper began in 1994 pushing immigrants into more rural and dangerous border crossings.