Repatriation flights -- flights paid for by the U.S. government to deport foreigners who were in the U.S. illegally -- have been a source of controversy since the program began in Arizona in 2004. Now, some estimates of the program put the costs since 2011 at more than $838 million.
"The American taxpayer would be hit with a fraction of these financial and environmental costs if we had a more complete border fence or if worker-protection programs, like mandatory e-Verify, were put in place like they should be," Dale Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of the anti-immigration group Immigration Reform Law Institute, told the Washington Examiner. "If we had the type of enforcement that other countries have, most of these thousand-plus flights per year would've have been unnecessary."
According to the Los Angeles Times, the repatriation flights began as a way to deport immigrants humanely, without sending them into violent border areas. Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, once the world's murder capital, sits right across the U.S.-Mexico border from El Paso, Texas. The city of 1.3 million people saw 2,086 murders in 2011 -- down from 3,116 the previous year, notes CNN.
"This type of collaborative effort to protect migrants and limit recruitment for organized crime is an important tool," Christopher Wilson, an associate at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said of the program in 2012, according to the Los Angeles Times. "This is an effective way to deal with this humanitarian crisis, in which migrants are dumped in parts of northern Mexico that are not all safe."
But Wilcox disagrees, supporting instead President Donald Trump's proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, notes the Washington Examiner. "These are the kinds of taxpayer expenses that have to be discussed when debating the costs of completing our border fence."