Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

At the Mexico Border, a Harder Line on Illegal Immigrants

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

At the Mexico Border, a Harder Line on Illegal Immigrants

Article excerpt

Risk of US prosecution, rather than a trip home for illegal immigrants, is rising as a deterrent to crossing the Mexico border. But the success of the zero-tolerance Operation Streamline is hard to gauge.

A few years back, most of the defendants in Judge Robert Brack's courtroom in Las Cruces, N.M., wouldn't have had contact with American criminal justice - let alone be sitting in green jail clothes and shackled at the wrists and ankles.

But under a new zero-tolerance program that has been implemented along sections of the border, migrants crossing illegally into the United States are prosecuted - not voluntarily returned to Mexico as they often were in the past. If they return again, they face a felony charge.

"If I see you again, under similar circumstances, I will give you a year," Judge Brack admonishes the defendants on a recent day.

Is the policy deterring migrants from slipping across the border? The US border patrol says that attempts at crossing are down.

Doug Mosier, a spokesperson at border patrol in the El Paso sector, which includes Brack's jurisdiction, says apprehensions in his sector are down significantly since the program began, by about 50 percent.

Cutting judicial corners?

But critics say that too many judicial corners have been cut, while more serious cases involving drugs and people smuggling have gone unheard.

"The program is diverting resources away from prosecuting more serious crimes along the border," says Joanna Lydgate, a civil rights fellow with the Warren Institute at Berkeley School of Law, which released a critical report of Operation Streamline - the umbrella name given to various programs begun along the border - in January.

Operation Streamline began in 2005, in Del Rio, Texas, and has since spread along the border. In the El Paso sector, it was put into effect in the beginning of 2008. Mr. Mosier, who has been with border patrol for 22 years, says the fear of prosecution is a preventive tool "with teeth," he says. "It discourages people from freely coming across the border like in the old days," he says, when the border was a "revolving door. …

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