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PHOENIX (AP) — The Trump administration said Tuesday it will start deporting about 250 Mexicans a week on flights from Tucson, Arizona, to Guadalajara, over 1,000 miles (1,640 kilometers) from the border.
The move reflects how Mexicans have become a higher priority in border enforcement as fewer Central Americans head to the U.S. The flights aim to deter attempts at crossing the border illegally by sending people deeper into Mexico.
Immigration authorities began the repatriation flights to Mexico's interior in December. The Department of Homeland Security said there will be two flights a week, starting Jan. 24.
Heather Swift, a department spokeswoman, said the flights satisfy a longstanding request of the Mexican government and will take people who are deported closer to their hometowns. Mexicans from states that border the U.S. will not be put on the flights.
Mexicans are exempt from a U.S. policy introduced a year ago to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court. More than 56,000 asylum-seekers had been turned back by the end of November, according to Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, about two-thirds of them Guatemalan or Honduran.
The policy, called “Migrant Protection Protocols,” has expanded across the border as the number of Central Americans arriving at the border has plunged.
Mexicans accounted for half of the arrests and people stopped at the U.S. border in December, more than three times more than any other nationality and a shift from much of last year, when Guatemala and Honduras were the top countries of origin.
“This is another example of the Trump administration working with the government of Mexico to address the ongoing border security crisis," Swift said.
A similar program in place from 2004 to 2012 also flew Mexicans who had crossed the border through Arizona deep into Mexican cities at the cost of $100 million over its lifespan. The repatriation program was meant as a deterrent for border-crossers who might attempt the trek again.
Mexican officials initially had doubts, but they embraced the program as a way to save lives at a time when thousands of migrants were dying in the desert.
Over 125,000 people were flown at no cost to them. The program ended when the number of migrants began to drop.