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U.S. tactic fails to halt Mexicans' attempts to cross border

| Friday, July 11, 2014, 8:33 p.m.

MEXICALI, Mexico — A U.S. effort to discourage immigrants' repeated attempts to enter the country illegally ­— dropping them back in Mexico hundreds of miles away from where they were caught — has been sharply scaled back because it produced relatively modest gains.

U.S. authorities insist the Alien Transfer Exit Program has contributed to overall achievements in border security.

They say the cutbacks reflect a need to shift resources to deal with Central Americans who are pouring into Texas.

The government has flown or bused hundreds of thousands of Mexican men to faraway border cities since February 2008. The goal was for the men to give up after being separated from their smugglers.

Government statistics and interviews with migrants in Mexican shelters, though, suggest that the dislocations are a relatively ineffective deterrent — especially for immigrants with spouses, children and roots in the United States.

After being dropped off, many get on another bus and head right back to where they started.

Once there, they reunite with their smugglers for another attempt, taking advantage of a standard practice that they pay only when they cross successfully.

“It's a nuisance. That's all,” said Pablo Hernandez, 50, who lingered in the hallway of a shelter in Mexicali, swapping stories with other migrants after American government officials took him on a five-hour bus ride from Tucson, Ariz.

He planned to take a commercial bus to the Mexican town of Altar to reunite with his smuggler, who provided a phone number and said he wouldn't demand his $3,400 fee until Hernandez made it.

The challenges illustrate the limits and pitfalls of big spending increases on border enforcement.

Despite overwhelming numbers of Central Americans crossing in Texas, the Border Patrol is making strides. The percentage of migrants arrested as they enter again after being caught has dropped.

Recidivism for all migrants arrested on the Mexican border fell to 16 percent in the 2013 fiscal year from 17 percent a year earlier.

The Alien Transfer Exit Program, though, barely has fared better than “voluntary returns” —­ migrants who are simply turned around without criminal charges.

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