Note: Nothing like conflicting policy statements, must be an
election year. Several details questionable, including "aging
population in Mexico".
Border Patrol to toughen policy on illegal immigrants
Elliot Spagat - Jan. 17, 2012 06:49 AM
SAN DIEGO-- The U.S. Border Patrol is moving to halt a revolving-door
policy of sending migrants back to Mexico without any punishment.
The agency this month is overhauling its approach on migrants caught
illegally crossing the 1,954-mile border that the United States
shares with Mexico. Years of enormous growth at the federal agency in
terms of staff and technology have helped drive down apprehensions of
migrants to 40-year lows.
The number of agents since 2004 has more than doubled to 21,000. The
Border Patrol has blanketed one-third of the border with fences and
other physical barriers, and spent heavily on cameras, sensors and
other gizmos. Major advances in fingerprinting technology have vastly
improved intelligence on border-crossers. In the 2011 fiscal year,
border agents made 327,577 apprehensions on the Mexican border, down
80 percent from more than 1.6 million in 2000. It was the Border
Patrol's slowest year since 1971.
It's a far cry from just a few years ago. Older agents remember being
so overmatched that they powerlessly watched migrants cross
illegally, minutes after catching them and dropping them off at the
nearest border crossing. Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher, who joined
the Border Patrol in 1987, recalls apprehending the same migrant 10
times in his eight-hour shift as a young agent.
The Border Patrol now feels it has enough of a handle to begin
imposing more serious consequences on almost everyone it catches,
from areas including Texas' Rio Grande Valley to San Diego. The
"Consequence Delivery System" -- a key part of the Border Patrol's
new national strategy to be announced within weeks -- relies largely
on tools that have been rolled out over the last decade on parts of
the border and expanded. It divides border crossers into seven
categories, ranging from first-time offenders to people with criminal
Punishments vary by region but there is a common thread: Simply
turning people around after taking their fingerprints is the choice
of last resort. Some, including children and the medically ill, will
still get a free pass by being turned around at the nearest border
crossing, but they will be few and far between.
"What we want to be able to do is make that the exception and not
necessarily the norm," Fisher told The Associated Press.
Consequences can be severe for detained migrants and expensive to
American taxpayers, including felony prosecution or being taken to an
unfamiliar border city hundreds of miles away to be sent back to
Mexico. One tool used during summers in Arizona involves flying
migrants to Mexico City, where they get one-way bus tickets to their
hometowns. Another releases them to Mexican authorities for
prosecution south of the border. One puts them on buses to return to
Mexico in another border city that may be hundreds of miles away.
In the past, migrants caught in Douglas, Ariz., were given a bologna
sandwich and orange juice before being taken back to Mexico at the
same location on the same afternoon, Fisher said. Now, they may spend
the night at an immigration detention facility near Phoenix and
eventually return to Mexico through Del Rio, Texas, more than 800
Those migrants are effectively cut off from the smugglers who helped
them cross the border, whose typical fees have skyrocketed to between
$3,200 and $3,500 and are increasingly demanding payment upfront
instead of after crossing, Fisher said. At minimum, they will have to
wait longer to try again as they raise money to pay another smuggler.
"What used to be hours and days is now being translated into days and
weeks," said Fisher.
The new strategy was first introduced a year ago in the office at
Tucson, Ariz., the patrol's busiest corridor for illegal crossings.
Field supervisors ranked consequences on a scale from 1 to 5 using 15
different yardsticks, including the length of time since the person
was last caught and per-hour cost for processing.
The longstanding practice of turning migrants straight around without
any punishment, known as "voluntary returns," ranked least expensive
-- and least effective.
Agents got color-coded, wallet-sized cards -- also made into posters
at Border Patrol stations -- that tells them what to do with each
category of offender. For first-time violators, prosecution is a good
choice, with one-way flights to Mexico City also scoring high. For
known smugglers, prosecution in Mexico is the top pick.
The Border Patrol has introduced many new tools in recent years
without much consideration to whether a first-time violator merited
different treatment than a repeat crosser.
"There really wasn't much thought other than, 'Hey, the bus is
outside, let's put the people we just finished processing on the bus
and therefore wherever that bus is going, that's where they go,'"
Now, a first-time offender faces different treatment than one caught
two or three times. A fourth-time violator faces other consequences.
The number of those who have been apprehended in the Tucson sector
has plunged 80 percent since 2000, allowing the Border Patrol to
spend more time and money on each of the roughly 260 migrants caught
daily. George Allen, an assistant sector chief, said there are 188
seats on four daily buses to border cities in California and Texas.
During summers, a daily flight to Mexico City has 146 seats.
Only about 10 percent of those apprehended now get "voluntary
returns" in the Tucson sector, down from about 85 percent three years
ago, said Rick Barlow, the sector chief. Most of those who are simply
turned around are children, justified by the Border Patrol on
Fisher acknowledged that the new strategy depends heavily on other
agencies. Federal prosecutors must agree to take his cases. U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement must have enough beds in its
In Southern California, the U.S. attorney's office doesn't
participate in a widely used Border Patrol program that prosecutes
even first-time offenders with misdemeanors punishable by up to six
months in custody, opting instead to pursue only felonies for the
most egregious cases, including serial border-crossers and criminals.
Laura Duffy, the U.S. attorney in San Diego, said limited resources,
including lack of jail space, force her to make choices.
"It has not been the practice (in California) to target and prosecute
economic migrants who have no criminal histories, who are coming in
to the United States to work or to be with their families," Duffy
said. "We do target the individuals who are smuggling those
Fisher would like to refer more cases for prosecution south of the
border, but the Mexican government can only prosecute smugglers:
smuggling migrants is a crime in Mexico but there is nothing wrong
about crossing illegally to the United States. It also said its
resources were stretched on some parts of the border.
Criticism of the Border Patrol's new tactics is guaranteed to persist
as the new strategy goes into effect at other locations. Some say
immigration cases are overwhelming federal courts on the border at
the expense of investigations into white-collar crime, public
corruption and other serious threats. Others consider prison time for
first-time offenders to be excessively harsh.
The Border Patrol also may be challenged when the U.S. economy
recovers, creating jobs that may encourage more illegal crossings.
Still, many believe heightened U.S. enforcement and an aging
population in Mexico that is benefiting from a relatively stable
economy will keep migrants away.
"We'll never see the numbers that we saw in the late 1990s and early
2000s," said Edward Alden, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign
Doris Meissner, who oversaw the Border Patrol as head of the former
Immigration and Naturalization Service in the 1990s, said the new
approach makes sense "on the face of it" but that it will be
expensive. She also said it is unclear so far if it will be more
effective at discouraging migrants from trying again.
"I do think the Border Patrol is finally at a point where it has
sufficient resources that it can actually try some of these things,"
said Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute.
Tucson, the only sector to have tried the new approach for a full
year, has already tweaked its color-coded chart of punishments two or
three times. Fisher said initial signs are promising, with the number
of repeat crossers falling at a faster rate than before and faster
than on other parts of the border.
"I'm not going to claim it was a direct effect, but it was enough to
say it has merit," he said.
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/