Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Enforcement Without Focus: Non-Violent Offenders Caught in the U.S. Enforcement System

Today, the Immigration Policy Center releases a fact sheet highlighting new data from the University of Arizona analyzing the human cost of immigration enforcement policies. For years, much of the day-to-day work done by the immigration enforcement agencies—Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—has involved apprehending and deporting non-violent immigrants who have only committed immigration offenses such as unlawful entry or re-entry into the United States. But the highly punitive treatment of these immigration offenders has not been an effective deterrent.

As a new report from the University of Arizona’s Center for Latin American Studies explains, three enforcement programs have contributed significantly to the over-emphasis on low-priority targets: Operation Streamline, the Alien Transfer and Exit Program (“lateral repatriation”), and Secure Communities. The report, based on data from the Migrant Border Crossing Study, provides new insight into the conduct and consequences of U.S. immigration-enforcement programs. For example, Operation Streamline is basically a mass trial for border-crossers that convicts between 40 and 80 people per hearing for “illegal entry,” a misdemeanor offense. But the survey data reveals the ineffectiveness of legal counsel in this setting, with 40 percent of recent deportees reporting that they were told to sign the form and not fight the charges against them. Because the changes in prosecution from Operation Streamline account for much of the increase in deportation of “criminal aliens,” criminal prosecutions for illegal entry jumped from 3,900 cases to 43,700 between 2000 and 2010. Additionally, under the Alien Transfer and Exit Program, Border Patrol agents transfer apprehended migrants to a different sector along the border. Sending migrants to unknown and unfamiliar territory separates groups traveling together who rely on one another for safety, with no evidence that the policy affects whether or not people will cross again.

This extensive new data demonstrates that border security cannot be achieved through programs that punish non-violent offenders and that more attention needs to be focused on how current deterrence strategies actual undermine safety and security at the border.


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