U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is using a chartered plane from SwiftAir to transport immigrants in the country illegally from the Denver area to the U.S.-Mexico border at Nogales, Arizona.
Once a week, ICE agents deport about 40 immigrants, with detainees bound in handcuffs for the duration of the trip. The flight often includes stops in other cities, according to The Denver Post.
Jeff Lynch, who leads Denver’s ICE field office, said the agents are not conducting organized sweeps, but are instead focusing on arresting people in the U.S. illegally who have been found guilty of committing violent crimes and felonies. That includes DUIs, he noted.
"Every arrest we make is targeted and there's an investigation that leads us to an individual," said Lynch. "We don't do ... sweeps or checkpoints ... that we see in the media."
One of those detained, Hector Alfonso Nunez Beltran, 28, was brought into the country illegally by his parents when he was 1 year old. He says he understands he doesn't have legal status, but says, "I feel like I am an American ... I've always put my hand on my heart for the American flag."
Beltran, who has a criminal record, was arrested by ICE while serving time in prison in Montezuma County, Colorado. He was sentenced for contributing to the delinquency of a minor by giving him marijuana and publicly consuming marijuana in Utah, according to KMGH. He has previously been in trouble with the law for resisting arrest and third-degree assault, but he says this is his first felony.
Beltran believes the charge caught the attention of ICE agents, who took him into custody at the prison as he was nearing the end of his sentence.
Now on the plane heading to a country where he has few connections, Beltran says he hopes to make contact with his brother, according to KMGH. His brother, who was deported seven years ago, is the only person Beltran knows who lives in Mexico.
Beltran consented to his deportation, agreeing to foot the bill of a few hundred dollars for the cost of his flight. Because he paid for it, the deportation will not be reflected on his record, which he hopes will increase his chances of being able to return to the U.S. legally.
He says he intends to return to the U.S., whether it is legally or illegally.
"I'm going to try both ways," he said. "But I want to be here legally, not illegally."
Sources: The Denver Post, KMGH / Featured Image: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: ICE.gov via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0 © Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com/Wikimedia Commons