Report: Cost, effectiveness of mass border prosecutions unknown

In March 2013, immigrants were processed by U.S. marshals in Tucson’s federal courthouse before a mass plea. Typically, all plead guilty and are quickly sentenced. Photo: Courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection 2013.

The Border Patrol is not fully measuring the effectiveness of prosecuting illegal immigrants in groups, does not know the full cost of the program and may be ignoring treaty obligations, a new report says.

The Border Patrol needs to measure the effectiveness of the effort known as Operation Streamline over several years, the Office of the Inspector General report recommends. The agency also must figure out how much it’s spending and develop guidelines on how to handle criminal prosecution of immigrants who express fear of persecution in their home country, the report continues.

Until recently, many immigrants who crossed the border illegally were allowed to return home voluntarily if they didn’t have a criminal record or a high number of prior illegal entries.

However in 2005 Operation Streamline was created in the Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector in Texas to create a zero-tolerance policy, criminally prosecuting illegal immigrants as a deterrent. This occurred at a time when the number of Central Americans crossing into Texas started to rise.

Before Streamline, the Border Patrol was releasing the immigrants with a notice to appear before an immigration official at a later time because Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not have enough detention space to hold them while their cases went forward or they were processed for deportation. But few were showing up to their appointments, and the practice became known as “catch and release.”

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