We're 33,000 feet above the Sonora Desert in Arizona. Guards are watching for any sudden movement. They are wearing dark sunglasses so the passengers can't see their eyes. In all, there are 14 of them: Federal marshals trained in hand-to-hand combat. The passengers are for the most part wearing shackles and handcuffs.
Welcome to "Con Air." That's what Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials call this flight full of undocumented immigrants, which left from Williams International Airport in Mesa, Arizona. From this airport alone, three full flights leave each week bound for Central America.
This "expedited removal" program began last September in order to cut through the red tape and remove undocumented immigrants from the United States -- not within months or years, as was typical, but within days. The number of flights nationally has already been increased to 12 per week. ICE officials say they've removed 81,000 people in three months this year. Never before have so many illegal immigrants been removed from the United States in such a short period of time, these officials tell us.
The flight we're on is headed for Honduras. Onboard, we find immigrants separated by two classifications: 1) Criminal aliens, whose crimes range from heroin smuggling, murder and petty offenses; 2) Those whose sole crime is being in the United States illegally.
When we land, we realize Honduran officials are almost embarrassed to receive us. They can't keep their own people in their own country, and there are three reasons for it: No money, no money, no money.
After touching down, we visit some small villages outside Tegucigalpa, Honduras' capital. It appears as though half the boys are gone. Where are they? Many people told us they are in America looking for work.
On this trip, we met one young man, Marlon Vargas, 23, who has snuck into the United States seven different times. He says the United States is making it more difficult for him to stay in the country, so he plans to join the Honduran military instead of trying again to get into the United States.
Prior to the "Con Air" program, illegal aliens would have gotten written notice to appear for a deportation hearing. More often than not, they wouldn't show, according to Gary Mead, assistant director of ICE. Now, they often are on plane out of the country within days.
"It's a hope that these people, when they get back, will explain to others that there is no safe haven anymore, and that when people are apprehended, they are processed quickly and they are returned quickly," Mead said.