Federal agencies commemorate Operation StreamLine accomplishments
By Bill Sontag
Del Rio Live (TX), December 3, 2008
Three years of successful apprehensions and adjudications of tens of thousands of illegal aliens were recounted, Tuesday (Dec. 2), as Operation StreamLine was acknowledged by 160 law enforcement officials, judges, ranchers and local civic leaders.
The 'zero tolerance' approach to processing undocumented immigrants flooding across the U.S. border with Mexico was a strategy initiated by the Del Rio Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP).
At the Tuesday ceremonies, Del Rio Sector Chief Patrol Agent Randy Hill affirmed that the dramatic change in apprehension policy, kicked off in 2005, was a carefully crafted partnership among the federal courts of the Western District of Texas, the U.S. Marshals Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Border Patrols Office of Chief Counsel, U.S. attorneys, and local law enforcement officials and landowners.
Prior to the advent of StreamLine, bogged down courts and swollen prison populations necessitated the release of hundreds of thousands of 'Other Than Mexican' (OTM) immigrants into the general population of the United States, after processing with paperwork demanding a court appearance, rarely met by the detainee. Mexican illegals were simply deported to their country at border ports-of-entry, but those from Central and South America were released as OTMs.
With the sudden launch of Operation StreamLine, including detention and adjudication for all illegal immigrants, Del Rio Sector crossings plummeted in the first year by 38 percent overall. That same year, as word trickled south to countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil, and others, the flow of OTMs dropped even faster and farther than overall apprehensions, nose-diving by 61 percent.
Colburn, then chief patrol agent of the Yuma (Arizona) Sector, noted the success of StreamLine in the Del Rio Sector, and adapted the approach and its collaboration with other agencies and courts to his 125-mile region of U.S./Mexico border. In 2005, Colburn noted, the Yuma Sector managed 140,000 arrests from the tide of immigrants, and the number is down to 8,000 this fiscal year.
Until StreamLine, Colburn said, his agency had tried nearly 'everything but the kitchen sink' to address the problem. Describing the impact of Streamline, Colburn quipped, 'We have reduced that [illegal immigration] by throwing in the kitchen sink.' Turning back to impacts in the Del Rio Sector, Colburn said that border immigration-related crimes have declined by 60 percent. 'But were not finished. Were still very worried about that other 40 percent,' Colburn said.
Acknowledging the importance of cooperation from the courts to manage the workload of processing and adjudicating illegal immigrants, Colburn commended the supportive cooperation of Alia Moses Ludlum, federal judge of the Western District of Texas, and Federal Magistrate Judges Dennis Green and Victor Garcia. Colburn called Ludlum 'our selling point' that tipped the decision in favor of Operation StreamLines prospects.
Colburn also lauded spin-off benefits of StreamLine in the Del Rio Sector and other locations where it has been implemented. These include, for example, federal agents increased latitude to focus on other issues, resulting in significantly increased seizures of drugs and other contraband. Illustrating other ramifications to the tightened immigration practices, Colburn observed, 'This good idea is not the solution to border security Just as the challenges are complex, so are the solutions.'
Hill closed the ceremonies, inviting Ludlum to join him in unveiling a commemorative plaque that will call attention to Operation StreamLines third anniversary. To have been presented by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner W. Ralph Basham, also unable to attend the Tuesday event, the plaques text congratulates all members of the StreamLine partnership:
In recognition of our successful collaboration to protect the borders of the United States while safeguarding the rights of individuals to due process. Your dedication to duty, sense of honor and love of country has served our country well by lowering crime rates and greatly improving the quality of life in our communities. Your diligence to duty has inspired others to initiate similar efforts throughout the country, for which we all may take pride.
Monday (Dec. 1), Ludlum commented that impacts on the federal courts here have been pronounced, but manageable, largely due to significant increases in staffing at all levels. Misdemeanor prosecutions, she said, 'have just skyrocketed, but are now stabilizing at this higher level.' Apprehensions of simple (misdemeanor) illegal entry in the Del Rio Sector now stand at 20,761 for Fiscal Year 2008, compared with 68,504 in FY 2005, prior to StreamLine implementation.
Of those, nearly half were OTMs, nearly all released, but now dropped 81 percent to a FY 2008 level of 5,845 entries, nearly all under adjudication. Mexican apprehensions, too, have dropped to only 40 percent of their 2005 levels, from 37,275 to 14,285.
According to Ludlum, some of the misdemeanor illegal entries become felony indictments when ancillary actions are necessary for crimes such as transportation of drugs, property invasion or destruction, or assaults. The list also includes previous convictions of a felony and deportation, titled 'illegal re-entry after deportation,' 'And I see those,' said Ludlum, referring to her court docket.
Ludlum says the Federal District Court sees about 1,300 felony cases per year many with multiple defendants per case and 16,000-18,000 misdemeanor cases, most handled by the two magistrate judges, Garcia and Green. 'Now Ive been seeing a big increase in the number of drug cases, because the agents are out there and able to make the drug arrests [rather than chasing as many OTMs],' Ludlum said.
Ludlums already distinguished career continued in 1990 when she came to Del Rio as the sole U.S. attorney here, establishing the office on a full-time basis. 'Now there are 15, and five were hired within the last year, just because of Operation StreamLine funding,' Ludlum said.
Illustrating the growth of the federal court system, Ludlum said that upon her arrival there were only 11 people in the old federal courthouse, and the new building on Broadway, downtown, how houses nearly 180. 'There were only about four U.S. marshals, and now there are 30. We had no public defenders, and now we have seven, and may be getting two more, if were lucky,' Ludlum said.
Asked about the future of Operation StreamLine, Ludlum said that continuation depends on the mood and actions of Congress 'and what the new president shows as his priority, but basically we hear that prosecution by cases with Operation StreamLine is here to stay.'