Federal hammer hits migrants harder
The Department of Homeland Security has dramatically ratcheted up its arrests of individuals along the U.S.-Mexico border for various immigration crimes, according to statistics released today by Syracuse University. Immigration prosecutions hit an all-time high in March 2008, with 9,350 defendants charged. The number of March arrests is up 50% from April and up a whopping 73% from 2007. The prosecutions are part of a Homeland Security and Justice Department program called "Operation Streamline." Under the program, illegal immigrants caught along the U.S.-Mexico border are prosecuted on federal criminal charges that require jail time. The average sentence is one month.
In early June, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the program was yielding "striking" results. "Once they get prosecuted, they stop trying to come in again," Chertoff said, adding that officials have also seen "a reduction in smuggling -- in smuggling organizations and illegal entries in the relevant urban areas." The top three charges in March were: "reentry of deported alien," "bringing in and harboring certain aliens," and "entry of alien at improper time or place, etc." The Syracuse data found that five federal judicial districts along the border dominated when it came to immigration prosecutions. The Southern District of Texas, around Houston, was the most active with 488 prosecutions in March. Texas' Western District court, around San Antonio, was second and the Southern District of California, around San Diego, was third.
"Operation Streamline" began as a pilot project around Del Rio, Texas, in December 2005. It was expanded to Yuma, Ariz., in December 2006 and Laredo, Texas, in October 2007. On June 9, Chertoff said the administration would commit more resources to the program with hiring of an additional 64 prosecutors and 35 support staff. The program, he said, "has a very significant deterrent impact."
--Nicole Gaouette in Washington