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Detained At Departure

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Detained At Departure

Detained At Departure

Just feet from the Mexican border, some illegal immigrants leaving the United States are being arrested and prosecuted for being in the country illegally in the first place.

The outbound teams have been in place for years. A group of Customs and Border Protection agents, four or five in dark blue uniforms, standing at the lanes heading south for Mexico. They look for weapons and cash heading in to that country. In February, the agents working the ports in Arizona seized more than one million dollars headed south.

But along with the cash and guns, those same agents are also finding illegal immigrants headed south.

"They're trying to leave, they're approaching the gate and then they're intercepted by CBP officers who stop them and ask to see their entry documents," says Richard Raynor, a federal public defender in Tucson.

He calls the program outrageous, saying it costs more than two thousand dollars a month to incarcerate someone who was leaving the country anyway.

Guadalupe Ramirez defends the program. He's CBP's director of the Nogales port of entry.

"Even though we're primarily looking at customs violations, for the southbound traffic, once we come across an immigration violation, we have to process that violation also," Ramirez said.

The agency says it has to document the fact that this person had entered the country illegally. It says it has no record of the numbers detained at departure. But an advocacy law group announced this week they believe as many as 5,000 people were detained as they were leaving.

Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.