Taking on a new role in government work, the Maryland Air National Guard flew 12 handcuffed Jamaican drug dealers to Miami yesterday in the first leg of their deportation journey home.
"This is the first time ever that the military has helped deport aliens for drug offenses," said Capt. Michael O. Milord, public affairs officer for the Maryland National Guard, adding that more such missions are expected.
The deportation mission was a joint operation of the 135th Tactical Airlift Group based at Martin State Airport and the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service. Officials of both agencies signed a memorandum of understanding Monday to "join forces in fighting this country's war on drugs."
"This joint initiative will allow the Guard to provide vital support to drug enforcement, while simultaneously satisfying flight time and other training requirements," spokesmen for the agencies said in a news release.
"It will also save the government, and ultimately the American taxpayer, the costly, cumbersome and time-consuming process incurred by deporting aliens via commercial transportation carriers," they said.
Captain Milord said 10 Jamaicans who had completed Maryland prison sentences for drug offenses were booked for yesterday's maiden mission, and the INS added two more from New York -- canceling in the process the tickets purchased for a commercial flight.
Officials also noted that many of the aliens had been convicted of numerous other crimes, ranging from possession of weapons to murder.
The Guard's C-130 Hercules airplane carried a flight crew of about eight. The 12 deportees -- all in handcuffs attached to waist chains -- were accompanied by eight immigration agents, Captain Milord said.
The chained passengers were greeted by a pack of reporters and photographers who were invited to the departure by the Guard and INS.