Image: AP

Next time you fly internationally, you may be sitting next to someone who is actually getting deported.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in New York recently made a 50-year-old man buy his own ticket to Mexico. Two officers met him at the airport and followed him to his gate to make sure he got on the flight, according to a story in the latest episode of Latino USA.

The segment follows a man named Martin Martinez as he visits ICE offices in New York City for his regularly scheduled check-in with immigration officials. According to Latino USA, Martinez has a record with two charges of driving under the influence, but he’s been going to these check-ins annually since 2013 without any problems.

Until recently, these routine check-ins immigrants like Martinez made with ICE officials were mostly uneventful. Officers quickly interviewed unauthorized immigrants and verified things like contact information and ensured there were no significant changes that made these individuals a priority for deportation.

This year, an ICE officer ordered Martinez to come to his check-in with a ticket for a one-way flight to Mexico. He is now living with his brother in a small town in the Mexican state of Puebla, a place Martin hadn’t visited since he was a teenager, according to Latino USA.

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‚ÄúYou think deportation means taking somebody and putting them on the plane? Oh no. That is the last resort,‚ÄĚ Camille Mackler, director of legal affairs with the New York Immigration Coalition, told Latino USA.

Martin Martinez looking out the window at Newark Airport. (Image provided to Latino USA by Martin Martinez’s family)

The prevalence of this practice is unclear. Five immigration attorneys and activists in California, Chicago, D.C, contacted by Splinter had never heard of ICE officials making people with deportation orders purchase their own commercial flights and then have agents escort them to their gate at the airport. One attorney, in Cleveland, said he has heard of this happening just this year.

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Fernanda Echavarri, one of the producers of the Latino USA segment, also told Splinter she had never heard of this practice until she worked on this story.

ICE spokesperson Brendan Raedy said the agency has ‚Äúutilized removals via commercial air since its founding in 2003, and does so on a daily basis.‚ÄĚ He said the practice dates back to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the agency that handled immigration proceedings before ICE was formed.

Raedy said if a ‚Äúremovable alien is unable to afford the cost of the ticket, ICE may work with receiving country officials at the appropriate embassy or consulate to assist in obtaining an airline ticket or ask the alien to work with their family to obtain a ticket.‚ÄĚ

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If the individual still can’t provide their own flight, then they may end up in shackles being deported on ICE’s own airline, ICE Air.

Listen to the Latino USA segment below.