The Associated Press
MEXICO CITY – Constantino Hernandez considered it a blessing when U.S. authorities arrested him after walking for two days in the harsh Arizona desert.
“I was rescued,” said the 37-year-old Mexican migrant, who has been going to the United States illegally to work in restaurants since 1992.
Hernandez was one of 74 migrants who flew to the Mexican capital Monday under a U.S. summer program, now in its fourth year, that gives participants free transportation all the way to their hometowns instead of simply deporting them back across the border. Washington touts the $15 million program as a way to reduce migrant deaths during the hot summer, but critics argue it does little to reduce total migration and only makes the journey harder and more expensive for those who participate.
Through the end of September, thousands will volunteer for the twice-daily charter flights between Tucson and Mexico City. From there, they hop buses to their hometowns, often in poor southern states such as Oaxaca, Chiapas and Guerrero.
Since the program was launched in 2004, after years of record-setting migrant deaths from exposure, more than 50,000 migrants have participated.
Southwestern desert temperatures can soar to more than 100 degrees in summer, and deporting migrants just across the border only encourages them to try again at the next opportunity, officials say.