TUCSON, Ariz. – On Sept. 8 the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) started the daily busing and flying of 300 of the approximately 1,100 undocumented Mexican migrants who are picked up by Border Patrol in Arizona every day to ports of entry hundreds of miles away in Texas at McAllen, Laredo, Del Rio, and El Paso.

Justifying this “lateral repatriation” plan as a safety measure that would disrupt people-smuggling rings, Mario Villarreal, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Bureau Protection stated, “They will be deported into an urban area where resources exist to help them rather than already-stressed border cities like Nogales.” Villareal claimed that Border Patrol officials embarked on the plan in Arizona after the migrant death toll continued to mount this summer following the deployment of additional agents, search-and-rescue teams and surveillance aircraft.

Kat Rodriguez from Derechos Humanos, a Tucson human rights group, calls the plan “just another shameful attempt to justify a failed border policy. It will be certain to split families, cause even more hardship, and inevitably result in more drownings in the Rio Grande as desperate migrants are left destitute along the Texas border.”

Alarmed mayors and other officials in Texas were never notified of the Border Patrol’s plan and many are fighting it. Texas Republican Congressman Henry Bonilla said he plans to introduce legislation next week that would halt what he calls a costly and dangerous deportation program. “Let’s allow each state to deal with their immigrant issues,” he said. “Shipping them to another region is inhumane, dangerous and downright expensive.” No cost estimates were given for the chartered planes and buses.

Rodriguez is also alarmed that immigrants separated from loved ones and friends may be dumped in Ciudad Juarez, south of El Paso where, during the past 10 years, none of the cases of 93 women brutally murdered and dozens missing have been solved amid horrifying tales of human rights abuses by police.

Human rights activists note that, years ago, migrant workers crossed safely without the aid of smugglers for the most part. Now, as border patrol activities have made it harder for people to cross by sealing off urban areas and driving migrants further into the Arizona deserts, people-smuggling has become a dangerous and profitable business.

The Border Patrol’s policies have proven increasingly deadly: while 79 migrants died in the Arizona desert in 2001; 152 have already perished in 2003.

“Dropping off migrants hundreds of miles from their families, friends, and other possible support they may have had in Arizona to some of the most destitute urban areas of Texas will not stop the deaths and suffering by both migrants and border communities,” predicted Isabel Garcia, co-chair of Derechos Humanos.

The author can be reached at susan@susanthorpe.com.