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Monday, June 07, 2004

New York City: Salvation Army eyes immigrant return program

New York City: Salvation Army eyes immigrant return program

BY STEPHANIE SAUL
Staff Writer

June 7, 2004, 6:00 PM EDT

Imagine a capital-hopping jet loaded with immigrants who are heading home, disillusioned with the American dream.

That's one of the ideas the Salvation Army is considering to rescue undocumented aliens who've tried their luck in New York and failed. Many have no way to get home, so they turn to the organization for help.

"If we had the ability to send people to Mexico, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti, we could fill a plane every month," said Alfred Peck, Salvation Army director of social services.

The organization recently held a brainstorming session to discuss the problem, Peck said. Among the possible solutions is a monthly charter flight landing in selected capitals in Latin America and the West Indies.

"We're looking for funders. This is an enormous, enormous population. People become disillusioned. The streets are not paved with gold," he said.

The increasing cost of housing in New York has exacerbated the problem, he said.

The program would be similar to one the Salvation Army runs for the city's Department of Homeless Services.

That program, called Homeward Bound, sends homeless families back to their native cities in the continental United States and Puerto Rico.

Homeward Bound serves about 100 families a year who want to return home, according to Jim Anderson, a spokesman for the Department of Homeless Services. The program also reduces the city's homeless population.

"They have to have a place to go and someone on the other end," Peck said. The people are returned to their home communities by bus or plane, depending on which is more cost-effective.

The program is performance-based, meaning that the Salvation Army doesn't get reimbursed if the families return to New York within 90 days.

But the Salvation Army currently has no mechanism for sending home foreigners, although it has been able to get funding in isolated cases.

"Sometimes people donate their frequent-flier miles," Peck said. At other times, airlines have donated free travel.

Peck cited a group of homeless people living in a stand of trees in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park as an example of some immigrants who would like to return to their homelands in Latin America, but don't have the money.

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