WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
29 Mar 2013 | Commentary

Does Deporting Migrants Far From Where They Were Apprehended Deter Them From Trying To Cross Again?

“ATEP [the Alien Transfer Exit Program] is an ongoing program whereby the Office of Border Patrol, in collaboration with ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), moves Mexican nationals apprehended in one Border Patrol Sector to another ERO Area of Responsibility before removing them to Mexico. ATEP breaks the smuggling cycle by repatriating aliens into regions further east or west of their entry location and, thus, preventing them from immediately coordinating with their smugglers for re-entry.” 

— Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, congressional testimony, May 3, 2011

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The ATEP program deports tens of thousands of migrants each year to Mexican border cities hundreds or thousands of miles from where they were apprehended. Critics of the program claim that it routinely separates families, and endangers migrants by dropping them off—often in the middle of the night—in unfamiliar border cities dominated by organized-crime groups who prey upon or even seek to recruit them. Defenders of ATEP say that these “lateral transfers” deter migrants from attempting to cross again.

The Facts:

A team from the University of Arizona has published an extensive study this week raising important concerns about the ATEP program. They find that the program rarely discourages repeat border crossings.

To produce In the Shadow of the Wall, Jeremy Slack, Daniel Martínez, Scott Whiteford, and Emily Peiffer led a team that surveyed 1,113 recent deportees in five Mexican border cities, as well as in Mexico City, between 2010 and 2012.

Their surveys lead them to conclude that ATEP “appears to have no impact on whether or not people will cross again.” In an e-mail communication, study co-author Daniel Martínez told WOLA that the 18 percent of surveyed deportees who were repatriated far from their point of apprehension were just as likely as other deportees to say they intended to attempt the crossing again.

“People who go through ATEP actually report intending to cross again at a higher rate than people who do not (31 percent of those processed through ATEP intend to cross within a week, compared to 24 percent of those who were not laterally repatriated). However, after one controls for various factors, the effect of ATEP on future crossings is not statistically significant. Ultimately, I can confidently say that ATEP does not influence future crossing decisions.”

The study also notes that of all deportees (including non-ATEP deportees), fully 18 percent were dropped off in Mexican border cities between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., a time when all basic services are closed and public security conditions are worst. Many of these night deportations are part of a surprising recent “increase in deportation to Mexico’s northeastern border where drug fueled violence has had a huge impact on migrants.”

The study recommends ending ATEP and ceasing night deportations.

WOLA’s Border Fact Check debunks false or misleading claims to inform you about what is really happening on the U.S.-Mexico border. To read the latest from our experts, visit www.borderfactcheck.com.