A plane carrying single mothers and children arrived Monday in Honduras, the first in what is to be a series of deportations of Central American migrants from the United States.
About 40 Hondurans flew from New Mexico, where they had been held in a federal detention center after being taken into custody entering the United States without documentation.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said they are among nearly 82,000 migrants from Central America who have been returned this fiscal year.
“As President Obama, the vice president and (Homeland Security) Secretary (Jeh) Johnson have said, our border is not open to illegal migration, and we will send recent illegal migrants back,” she said.
NBC News quoted unnamed Department of Homeland Security officials saying that this was the first wave of departations of single mothers and children, and that others will be returned in coming weeks to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Immigration officials and members of Congress say large numbers of women and children from Central America have crossed the U.S. border with Mexico in recent months, misled by false rumors in their countries that they could receive U.S. sanctuary.
The Los Angeles Times reported from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, that a total of 18 mothers, 13 girls and nine boys were scheduled on the flight, but two did not board because of illness.
They were greeted by politicians, television crews and aid workers at Ramon Villeda Morales airport. Among those present was the nation’s first lady, Ana García de Hernández.
Aid workers handed out candy and balloons to the children.
The children were as young as 18 months up to 15 years old, the Financial Times reported.