U.S. Buses Undocumented Immigrants To 'Nowhere' To discourage undocumented immigrants from re-entering the U.S., the Border Patrol is busing those it captures in Arizona to a remote border crossing in Texas, where they are sent back to Mexico. Officials call the program a success, but locals on both sides aren't happy about the nearly 100 young men dumped in their communities every day.

U.S. Buses Undocumented Immigrants To 'Nowhere'

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. The Border Patrol has a way to discourage undocumented immigrants from entering southern Arizona, which is the nation's busiest illegal border crossing. When agents catch the illegal immigrants, they are put on a bus and sent 570 miles away to a remote border crossing in Texas. As NPR's John Burnett reports, it's working so far, although some wonder for how long.

JOHN BURNETT: It's midday at the sleepy port of entry between Presidio, Texas, and Ojinaga, Mexico. The bridge is nearly empty. A herd of goats grazes beside the Rio Grande. A big silver-and-white bus pulls up on the U.S. side. The door opens, and out steps a guard in a gray uniform and black boots, contracted to the Department of Homeland Security.

The passengers follow: young Mexican men in sweatshirts and dirty jeans. They were all picked up in southern Arizona. They yawn after their long road trip, collect their belongings and give their name to a Border Patrol agent.

Unidentified Man #1: (Spanish spoken)

BURNETT: Then they make the five-minute walk across the concrete bridge back to their homeland.

Once they're inside the Mexican immigration office, a fresh-faced consular employee welcomes them to Ojinaga, Chihuahua, which is the last place they want to be.

Unidentified Man #2: (Spanish spoken)

BURNETT: The Marfa sector of far west Texas is the least trafficked crossing area of the entire 2,000-mile border. This is the storied Big Bend country of Texas, a sea of thorn brush desert, canyons and steep mesas with no large cities where immigrants can blend in. That's precisely why the Border Patrol sent them here.

Twenty-three-year-old Jose Pedro Caseres stands outside the immigration office disconsolately holding his sack of tuna and crackers, a gift of the U.S. government.

Mr. JOSE PEDRO CASERES: (Through translator) I'm going home with nothing. This is why I'm sad. Thank God I'm alive, but I return just as I left, with nothing in my hand.

BURNETT: His eyes brim with tears as he relates his ordeal. Caseres says he's a miner from Muzquiz, Coahuila, who was headed to Texas to work on a ranch. He says he walked for seven days in the Arizona desert - lost, hungry, exhausted -after the smuggler pocketed his $750 and abandoned him.

He was caught by the Border Patrol in a ranch house he says he found open, devouring what food he could find.

Mr. CASERES: (Through translator) I don't intend to try to cross again because it's a lot of suffering - more than anything, the suffering of my mother, who worries about me.

BURNETT: The Border Patrol's Alien Transfer and Exit Program began nearly two years ago between Arizona and California. It was expanded last month to Presidio. Victor Velasquez is assistant chief agent of the Marfa sector.

Mr. VICTOR VELASQUEZ (Assistant Chief Agent, Marfa Sector): The idea is to remove the smuggled aliens from the smuggling organizations. It's to break the smuggling cycle.

BURNETT: Most days, the Border Patrol sends 94 men to Presidio. From there, the Mexican government offers them a bus ride to Chihuahua City, where they can get bus tokens back to their hometowns.

Several immigrants told NPR they had every intention of returning to Sonora and attempting to cross into Arizona again. Nevertheless, the Border Patrol considers the program a success. A spokesman in Washington said in the past two years, they've had a 35 percent recapture rate, which means 65 percent either stay in Mexico or they sneak back in and evade capture.

In an interview, the Mexican consul in Presidio, Hector Raul Acosta, condemns the program. He says detained immigrants are forced to stand for hours in crowded cells, they receive inadequate medical attention, and families are split up - all charges the Border Patrol disputes.

Mr. HECTOR RAUL ACOSTA (Mexican Consul, Presidio, Texas): This is a unilateral program that the Border Patrol started without Mexican government agreement.

BURNETT: Despite the consul's public disapproval, the government of Mexico is working hand-in-glove with the Border Patrol, says assistant chief Victor Velasquez.

Mr. VELASQUEZ: That's the key piece in making this program a success. As soon as they're repatriated into Mexico, they're being bused to the interior of Mexico.

BURNETT: So far, almost all the immigrants deported to Ojinaga do hop the bus to Chihuahua City, rather than stay in the area, where there are no jobs. The Border Patrol says in the first six weeks of the program, agents have not caught anyone who came from Arizona and tried to go north through Presidio.

Yet local officials on both sides of the river take a dim view of nearly a hundred young male adventurers dumped in their communities every day. Ojinaga Mayor Cesar Carrasco.

Mayor CESAR CARRASCO (Ojinaga, Mexico): (Through translator) When a city is small and when we've never had this sort of problem before, we thought, what are we going to do with all these people, when we can barely take care of our own citizens?

BURNETT: In Texas, Republican Governor Rick Perry went so far as to complain that the Obama administration is sending illegal immigrants to Presidio to punish Texas.

Because of the harshness of the terrain, human smuggling historically has not been a problem in Presidio County, which is more than twice the size of Rhode Island. But county judge Jerry Agan is worried it's about to be.

Judge JERRY AGAN (Presidio County, Texas): But now you start putting 700 a week through this port of entry. I'm sympathetic with the people in Tucson that they don't want the problem over there, but I don't want the problem in Presidio County.

BURNETT: If border watchers have learned a truism about the U.S.-Mexico divide, it is that smugglers adapt. They always seem to find a way.

John Burnett, NPR News.

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