Crackdown at the Border
Data: Immigration prosecutions jump fourfold during bushs tenure
January 21, 2009 – 11:42 PM
Annual immigration prosecutions more than quadrupled during former President George W. Bush's eight years in office, reaching an all-time high in the last year, a recent survey shows.
The rise comes after seven years of change in how the federal government handles immigration cases – from eliminating a “catch-and-release” policy for detainees to “Operation Streamline,” which created a zero-tolerance policy toward illegal immigration in certain U.S. Border Patrol sectors.
“Up to the last minute, this administration was set on leaving their mark, which was not very kind on the lives of so many thousands and millions of immigrants that are living and working in the United States,” said Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of La Union Del Pueblo Entero, a San Juan-based immigrant advocacy group.
Bush ended the “catch-and-release” immigration policy in 2006. Under that policy, non-Mexican immigrants with no significant criminal records were released in the United States with a promise to show up for a later court date. Few actually lived up to the promise, however.
Operation Streamline – an initiative that calls for the prosecution of all undocumented migrants caught crossing the border – began in December 2005 and has been implemented in Arizona and in the Border Patrol's Laredo and Del Rio sectors in Texas.
The federal government also has put into place about 600 miles of fencing in the past year along the nation's 2,000-mile-long border with Mexico.
Since going into effect, Streamline has resulted in sharp drops in the Border Patrol's number of apprehensions, officials have said.
At the same time, though, prosecutions of border-crossers have spiked, the TRAC survey shows.
“The results that are being seen from that operation have indicated that it has been quite successful,” said Jack Martin, special projects director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. “As a result it ought to be replicated all along the border to the extent the resources that are available.”
In the Rio Grande Valley, Streamline covers only a four-mile stretch of the border near Brownsville toward the Gulf Coast.
A 2007 report by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts showed that expanding Streamline beyond the largely rural areas it currently covers would create an even greater workload for federal prosecutors already struggling to keep up with immigration cases.
There was a slight increase in the number of illegal immigrants apprehended across Border Patrol's Rio Grande Valley Sector last year – but the number is still down 43 percent from the 2005 fiscal year, when 134,136 people were detained, agency statistics show.
Streamline could be expanded across the Valley, but officials have set no date for when that would occur, said John Lopez, a local Border Patrol spokesman.
“It has been discussed,” Lopez said. “But it is at the discretion of the chief as to when they want to implement it.”
Before Streamline, first-time offenders would be given the option of voluntary deportation and were fingerprinted, placed on a bus and transported to Mexico within hours of their arrest.
That policy remains in place across the vast majority of the Valley.
Whether there will be any local-level policy changes under newly inaugurated President Barack Obama remains to be seen.
Following his swearing-in Tuesday, the U.S. Senate confirmed former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
That change in the department's leadership has made undocumented immigrants “more hopeful” of what lies ahead, LUPE's Valdez-Cox said.
“They're more optimistic that … there may be an opportunity for them to have a process to follow to legalize their status,” she said. “We know there's a lot of work ahead, but there is plenty of newfound hope in this administration.”
Jared Taylor covers law enforcement and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4439.