Monday, June 2, 2008
Federal law enforcement agencies have increased criminal prosecutions of immigration violators to record levels, in part by filing minor charges against virtually every person caught illegally crossing some stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border, according to new U.S. data.
Officials say the threat of prison and a criminal record is a powerful deterrent, one that is helping drive down illegal immigration along the nearly 2,000-mile frontier between the United States and Mexico. Skeptics say that the government lacks the resources to sustain the strategy on the border and that the effort is diverting resources from more serious crimes such as drug and human smuggling.
Before Operation Streamline, as the program is known, most Mexican nationals caught at the border were fingerprinted and returned to Mexico without criminal charges. Since 2005, people other than Mexicans are generally held until removed.
In testimony to Congress this spring, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that Operation Streamline "is a very good program, and we are working to get it expanded across other parts of the border" because "it has a great deterrent effect." The program is now in place in parts of Texas and Arizona.
But Melissa Wagoner, a spokeswoman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), said there is a shortage of jail beds and public defenders in areas where the program is operating. "Operation Streamline in its current form already strains the capabilities of the law enforcement system past the breaking point," she said. [Mark Godsey]