Regional groups seeking immigration reform hope any policy decisions and legislation will exclude what they call “harsh border enforcement policies.”
Astrid Dominguez, a border rights fellow with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, said Tuesday that Operation Streamline, a policy launched by the Bush administration, should be halted.
The operation, Dominguez said, criminalizes people who have crossed the border without taking into account their back stories.
The program was instituted in 2005, “ordering federal criminal charges for every person who crosses the border illegally,” according to a fact sheet by the ACLU and the National Immigration Forum, an advocate of immigration.
“It’s a zero-tolerance border enforcement program that targets even first-time undocumented border crossers and forces undocumented migrants through the federal criminal justice system and into U.S. prisons instead of routing nonviolent individuals crossing the border into civil deportation procedures,” Dominguez said during a news conference in front of the federal courthouse in Brownsville.
She said 46,470 immigrant related cases were prosecuted in 2009 in western and south Texas, which she said puts a strain on the federal justice system.
The program, Dominguez said, streamlines due process — it takes two days for defendants to be arraigned, plead and be given an outcome. She said in some cases defendants only have a short amount of time with their lawyers, which is sure to impede the process of law.
“Rather than spend time prosecuting serious crimes including gun and drug trafficking and organized crime, federal lawyers now spend much of their time on misdemeanor illegal entry cases,” she said. “This means we’re chasing immigrants instead of focusing on chasing serious crimes.”
She said almost 200 people from the Rio Grande Valley will attend a march Friday in Austin calling for humane immigration reform.
Martha Mateos said someone in her family was caught crossing the border three months ago. He was prosecuted and given a six-month prison sentence.
“He’s still in prison,” she said.
Dominguez said imprisoning someone for this reason costs a lot. She said $1.2 billion was spent in 2011 in incarceration costs for “simple migration crimes.”
During a speech in January, President Barack Obama said four areas need attention to reform the broken immigration system, including border security.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who is working on legislation with seven other senators, said Operation Streamline has been effective in border crossings in parts of Arizona.
A spokeswoman for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said no information will be released about the bill, but that border security is very important.
Both senators are part of the “gang of 8,” working on the immigration reform legislation; they’re the only two from border states.
According to Dominguez, Arizona, West Texas and South Texas handle 88 percent of immigration cases filed in federal courts nationwide.