Last month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hosted a familiarization trip for Honduran and Guatemalan immigration officials to learn more about the United States' detention and removal process and policies, and to strengthen ties between the United States and both countries.
During this three-day trip, the officials, along with foreign service nationals and representatives from foreign nongovernmental organizations, traveled to south Texas to gain personal insight into the lifecycle of the detention and removal process.
"From the safe and humane treatment of detainees in detention facilities to the detailed planning that goes into each repatriation flight, they [the officials] now have a greater understanding of the processes," said Marlen Pineiro, ICE assistant attaché in Guatemala. "The tour also gave them an opportunity to address any questions and concerns about treatment, the facilities and property issues."
Marta Munoz, Guatemalan director of consular affairs, found the tour to be educational. She said she is now able to better, "explain [to] the population in general the conditions that people who will be deported are living in and able to clarify the wrong concepts [some people] have regarding the treatment [of] Guatemalans [who] are deported."
After arriving in San Antonio, the contingent visited two ICE adult detention centers – the South Texas Detention Center and the Karnes County Civil Detention Center, ICE's newest detention facility in Pearsall, Texas. This visit gave participants the chance to see firsthand where detainees are housed, the wide-range of services offered and the many protocols that are followed. The group also toured the Baptist Child and Family Services Juvenile Shelter, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement. It houses juveniles during the tenure of their immigration court proceedings. Throughout the facility tours, ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers were on hand to answer questions about facility operations.
Additionally, the delegates also observed an immigration court proceeding at the South Texas Detention Center, a program that is managed by the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review.
For the final leg of the trip, the delegates flew on a scheduled ICE ERO repatriation flight to their respective countries. Staffed by government contractors and ICE Air Operations ERO officers, these flights enable the agency to repatriate large groups of deportees, who have final orders of removal from an immigration judge, in an efficient, expeditious and humane manner.
On an average weekly basis, ICE Air Operations charters approximately eight flights to both Guatemala and Honduras. Each of these flights holds approximately 135 deportees.
Considering the high volume of removals both governments process every day, a familiarization trip like this one goes a long way toward improving coordination and process efficiency and communication channels.
"Any time we can help the host governments better understand what and why we do certain processes, it truly helps to continue to improve our relationships with them," said Pinero. "And, in turn, it helps us understand their needs as they receive their nationals."
Jose Zaldano, a Honduran immigration official on the trip, said he found learning about the administrative and operational procedures in the detention centers for adults and the shelters for minors, as well as the reception protocols of those who are repatriated to the Honduran Republic most beneficial.
"Overall, the trip provided a better understanding of the removal program, fostered communication and stimulated new ideas to improve the repatriation program with the governments," added Everett Chase, ICE assistant attaché in Honduras.