Monday, July 20, 2009

Walking North, Flying South

Guatemalan mechanic Erwin Baches walked for five days across the desert and broke into the United States in search of the American Dream. Arrested, jailed and placed on a deportation flight back to Central America days ago, he is one of a growing number of illegal immigrants being sent home with that dream in tatters. "I just wanted a better life for my family," said Baches, 35, swiping away tears on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, charter flight to Guatemala City from a Phoenix-valley airport.

Immigration, particularly what to do with millions of illegal immigrants living in the shadows, is a divisive issue in the United States. As President Barack Obama tries to rally support in the U.S. Congress to revive comprehensive immigration reform this year, his government is removing the United States' unauthorized population at a gathering pace.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Flight Operations Unit, carrying out a policy begun under former President George W. Bush, has moved an average of 4,200 unauthorized migrants a week this year, up from 3,700 last year. Obama is seeking support among Democratic and Republican lawmakers to fix the broken immigration system in the United States, where almost 12 million illegal immigrants live and work in the shadows. He supports offering those in good standing the chance to pay a fine and become citizens, at the same time cracking down on employers hiring undocumented workers and hardening security along the Mexico border.

The ICE Office of Detention and Removal Operations deports to more than 190 countries. Each weekday it averages 9 or 10 charter flights, a service dubbed "ICE Air" by news media, most of them bound for Central and South America and the Caribbean. Critics say deportation is simply a revolving door as migrants frequently make their way back to the United States and resume their lives. But ICE says deportation acts as a deterrent to many, and shows others that there are consequences for breaking into the United States, particularly if they commit crimes.

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