(This January 23 story corrects to U.S. Border Patrol from Immigration and Customs Enforcement in paragraph 10)
By Lisandra Paraguassu
BRASILIA (Reuters) - The U.S. government will deport a planeload of Brazilians on Friday, the second such chartered flight since October to return an increasing number of migrants trying to enter the United States illegally from Mexico.
The flight from El Paso will arrive in Belo Horizonte in central Brazil early on Saturday morning, Brazil’s Foreign Ministry told Reuters. The October flight had 70 deportees aboard.
The two deportation flights in October and this week are the first authorized by Brazil since 2006 and mark a policy change by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro who has sought closer ties with the Trump Administration, two Brazilian officials said on condition of anonymity.
Brazil has previously refused to receive mass deportations from the United States and is now allowing these transfers to help President Donald Trump’s policy of speeding up deportations of illegal migrants at the Mexican border, they said.
Brazil’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the Brazilian government had been notified of the repatriation of Brazilian nationals who were not admitted to the United States.
“What else can we do? They are being detained at the border and aren’t going to be able to enter the United States. We have to bring them home,” a third official told Reuters when asked about the deportations.
Trump has made restricting legal and illegal immigration a central focus of his presidency and his 2020 reelection campaign. His administration has issued a series of sweeping policies seeking to limit access to U.S. asylum at the Mexico border and has pledged to ramp up deportations of migrants living illegally in the United States.
Matthew Albence, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which coordinates deportation flights, said larger flights were more efficient, but did not provide details of the flight set to depart for Brazil on Friday.
“We can put 70 [people] on a plane and get them all at one time, as opposed to flying 70 individuals by themselves,” Albence said during an interview at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “That’s certainly a lot cheaper and more efficient.”
The number of Brazilians arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol at the U.S.-Mexico border surged to 17,900 in fiscal 2019, a more than tenfold increase from the previous year, according to the U.S. government.
Brazilian diplomats believe this surge was due to Brazilians wanting to live in the United States anticipating tougher rules for visas under Trump and deciding to enter from Mexico.
The two Brazilian government sources told Reuters Brazilian diplomats were told not to place hurdles in the way of U.S. deportation of Brazilians because that could hurt closer ties with Washington.
Few Brazilians have a valid reason to request asylum as the country is neither at war nor seen as dangerous for minorities, according to Brazilian officials, so they are mostly denied entry and held in U.S. detention at the border.
The increase in Brazilians arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum has led the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to consider sending Brazilian migrants back to Mexico to await court hearings under a new Trump administration program that currently applies only to Spanish speakers, a U.S. official and a Mexican official familiar with the discussions told Reuters last week.
The Trump administration has also explored the possibility of sending Brazilian asylum seekers to other nations, according to the U.S. official.
Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by David Gregorio