DENVER – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deports about 40 people a week from the Denver area using a chartered airplane that eventually makes its way to Nogales, Arizona on the U.S.-Mexico border.
ICE allowed Denver7 Investigates to board the plane as it sat on the tarmac at Denver International Airport.
On the side of the plane reads the name SwiftAir.
Deportees are kept in handcuffs through the journey, which often includes stops in other cities.
Some deportees who are headed to interior parts of Mexico are later flown to Mexico City.
Hector Alfonso Nunez Beltran, 28, was about to board the day we visited. He said he has lived in America since his parents illegally brought him when he was a year old.
Nunez has a criminal record that includes giving marijuana to a young boy and publicly smoking and possessing marijuana in Utah – where recreational marijuana use is not legal. He also has a record for resisting arrest and third-degree assault.
Beltran was serving time in the Montezuma County, Colo. jail for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and publicly consuming marijuana when ICE says he was nearing the end of his sentence. He was arrested by ICE officers before his release.
“I was hanging out with the wrong people and got a felony charge. It’s my first one ever. That's what caught ICE's attention," he said.
Beltran must leave behind most of the people he knows in the United States and says he feels like this is where he belongs.
"I’ve always put my hand to my heart for the American flag. I feel like I am an American, but I understand I'm not. I didn't bring myself here, I was brought here."
The head of Denver's ICE field office, Jeff Lynch, says agents focus on arresting people here illegally who have committed violent crimes. That includes DUIs, he says.
Lynch says investigations are targeted.
“We don't do random (checks) and we don't do sweeps or checkpoints on the terms that we see in the media.” Lynch said. “Every arrest we make is targeted and there's an investigation that leads us to an individual."
During an arrest, ICE agents sometimes come across other people who are in the country illegally, but haven't committed any other crimes. Lynch says agents can use discretion when deciding whether to arrest others.
"Perhaps the husband was the target. Maybe the wife is the sole caregiver for children, maybe she's pregnant, maybe there are medical issues,” he said. “Things of that nature will be taken into consideration before we take action. Maybe she firmly told us she intends on going back home."
Deporting everyone who is in the U.S. illegally would overwhelm the system, he says.
On the plane headed to Arizona, Beltran said he hopes to find his brother after he lands in Mexico. His brother is the only person he knows in Mexico.
"My brother got deported 7 years ago," Beltran said.
He voluntarily agreed to be deported and agreed to pay a few hundred dollars for the cost of his flight to Mexico. Because he voluntarily agreed to be deported after he was arrested, he leaves without a deportation on his record.
If he decides to apply to come back legally, this will give him a better chance at becoming successful.
Beltran told Denver7 Investigates he will try to come back one way or another -- illegally or legally.
"I'm going to try both ways, but I want to be here legally, not illegally," Beltran said.