PHOENIX, July 14 (UPI) -- The U.S. government resumed a program that flies undocumented immigrants caught at the U.S.-Mexican border to Mexico City during the summer, officials said.
The voluntary program -- part of an effort to curtail illegal immigration, foil smuggling organizations and prevent migrant deaths -- is expected to cost $9 million to $11 million and runs through Sept. 28, The Arizona Republic reported Thursday.
The first flight left Tuesday with 88 people aboard.
Under the 8-year-old plan, undocumented immigrants caught by Border Patrol could fly on a chartered flight from Tucson to Mexico City where they are given bus tickets to their hometowns. Usually, apprehended undocumented immigrants are returned to Mexico through border ports, where many reconnect with smugglers and attempt another illegal crossing, said Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Vincent Picard, based in Phoenix.
"It breaks the link between the smuggled alien and the criminal smuggling organization that marches aliens through the desert, risking their lives through the extreme temperatures that Arizona brings in the summertime," Picard told the Republic.
From Oct. 1, 2010, through the end of June, 128 migrants died in the Arizona desert, information posted on the Web site No More Deaths indicated.
The United States pays for the flight and bus tickets for the program in which the Mexican government cooperates. Mexican diplomatic officials interview all migrants before they board the planes to ensure they're participating willingly, Picard said.
"Indeed, this program is one more example of how cooperation between our countries can lead to solutions to common problems," Salvador Beltran del Rio, commissioner of Mexico's National Migration Institute, said in a statement.
Last year, the U.S. government returned 23,384 illegal immigrants to Mexico under the program at a cost of $14.8 million, Picard said.