BP attempts to break cycle of repeat crossings
By Denise Holley
The Nogales International (AZ), January 13, 2009
U.S. Border Patrol agents in the Tucson Sector would like to see the day when fewer illegal immigrants travel north from Mexico to Arizona to seek work. Then agents could concentrate on apprehending dangerous criminals, said Rob Daniels, public affairs officer for the Tucson Sector.
Robert Gilbert, chief of the Tucson Sector, wants to 'end voluntary departure as an option, to prevent them (immigrants) from coming back,' Daniels said.
About 90 percent of the people apprehended by the Border Patrol have no criminal record or warrants, Daniels said. They can avoid a formal deportation in federal court if they agree to be bused back to Mexico, a process called 'voluntary departure.'
But now the Border Patrol is sending more immigrants to federal court in Tucson to face prosecution for the misdemeanor offense of entry without inspection.
'If they are prosecuted by a judge, then they have a record,' Daniels said. 'They cant come back legally for five years.'
The Border Patrol began apprehending more people in 2004, when the Arizona Border Control Initiative brought more agents and technology to states that border Mexico, said Gustavo Soto, supervisor for public affairs in the Tucson Sector. That initiative evolved into the Arizona Denial Prosecution Initiative, which selects a percentage of illegal immigrants for prosecution.
'What the chief wants is for you to face jail time,' Soto said. 'If theres no consequence to your crossing the border, youre going to try again.'
Soto admitted it would bog down the federal court system if 100 percent of the immigrants were prosecuted. The Arizona Daily Star reported last April that prosecuting some 60 people each day put a strain on the federal court system, which had to bring in extra attorneys.
Since Arizona Denial began in January 2008, more than 9,500 individuals were prosecuted, said Mario Escalante from the Tucson Sector. The initiative focuses on a 15-mile stretch of border southwest of Tucson.
As well as Arizona Denial, the Border Patrol has these operations:
* Operation Streamline: More than 9,600 individuals with a criminal history or repeated illegal entries saw an immigration judge at the Tucson Sector office instead of going to federal court.
* Mexican Interior Repatriation Program: During the hottest months, the BP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Mexican Consulate screen immigrants who want to go home and put those eligible onto flights to the interior of Mexico. In summer 2008, more than 18,000 people returned to their home towns.
* Alien Transfer Exit Program: Between March and Sept. 30, 2008, more than 5,800 immigrants were bused to a port of entry far from the area where they were apprehended, said Escalante.
When immigrants are released through the Nogales ports of entry, often a smuggler is waiting for them in a van, Soto said. 'Many of the men or women arent in any condition to go back out to the desert for two or three days.'
Instead, agents put the individuals on a bus to San Isidro or Calexico, Calif., to cross into Mexico, Soto said.
In fiscal year 2004, only 8 percent of illegal immigrants were removed by a means other than voluntary departure, Soto said. But in fiscal year 2008, 22 percent went through a court process or were flown to the interior or repatriated at a distant port.
'We want to get that figure to 100 percent,' Soto said. 'If you cross through Arizona, you will face some kind of consequence. We dont want anybody to cross through these hazardous deserts.'
But is this strategy working?
The number of illegal immigrants picked up by agents in the Tucson Sector declined to 317,696 in fiscal year 2008 – Oct. 1, 2007-Sept. 30, 2008, Daniels said. This is lower than FY 2007, when 378,074 people were apprehended. In 2006, the figure was even higher – 392,074.
Figures are not separated for the eight stations within the Tucson Sector, Soto said. They include people taken to BP stations in Ajo, Casa Grande, Douglas, Naco, Nogales, Sonoita, Tucson and Willcox.
'October, November and December are our slowest months of the year, Daniels said. 'A lot of individuals are going south because of the holiday, or not coming north.'
'The cold reduces the number of migrants,' said Ramiro Quintero Chavez, a coordinator with the Sonoran State Commission for the Attention of Migrants.
In Mexico, the government sponsors a publicity campaign that describes the dangers of crossing the border and the desert and tries to encourage Mexicans to stay in their country, Quintero said.
'There are few opportunities (in the U.S.),' he said. 'Employment is down.'
The Border Patrol is sending fewer Mexican nationals back through the Mariposa Port of Entry, said Nancy Myers, a volunteer with No More Deaths, a Tucson organization that runs an aid station at the drop-off point.
Myers thinks more Mexicans are being repatriated through the DeConcini Port of Entry in downtown Nogales.
Shura Wallin, a member of the Green Valley Samaritans, said the number of Mexicans bused to the Mariposa port has dropped from several hundred a day last summer to about 150 a day.