The Department of Homeland Security, continuing to enforce what it calls a “strict policy of arresting, prosecuting and jailing” illegal immigrants, deported a record number of those caught on the nation’s borders last year—more than 280,000 in fiscal year 2007 compared to 186,000 a year earlier.
It was the largest number of illegals ever removed from the country in a single year.
The increase is attributable to what veteran law enforcement authorities said is a revised apprehension process, adding that the department no longer is targeting only criminal aliens for removal, but seeks eventually to apprehend, charge and deport all those who cross illegally into the United States.
To that end, Homeland Security has initiated “Operation Streamline” along some sectors of the U.S.-Mexico border, which brings those who cross illegally into the U.S. into the criminal justice system where they are prosecuted either for a misdemeanor on their first offense or a felony if they have been caught before.
Mr. Chertoff noted that between October and December, the Justice Department prosecuted 1,200 cases under the new program and, as a consequence, apprehension rates dropped nearly 70 percent in those areas.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokeswoman Ernestine Fobbs said the agency’s Office of Detention and Removal Operations removed to 195 countries throughout the world a total of 280,523 illegal immigrants during fiscal 2007—which ended Sept. 30.
Through Feb. 18 of fiscal 2008, she said, the agency has removed 94,237 illegal immigrants.
But Operation Streamline is under way in only selected areas of the Arizona and Texas border, enforced by agents from ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) who seek to put an end to the so-called “catch-and-release” of illegal immigrants at popular alien-smuggling corridors.
Under the program, illegals caught entering the country are fingerprinted, prosecuted and can spend up to 180 days in jail.
On average, about half of those caught at the Southwest border are Mexican nationals. Currently, they face formal deportation procedures only in those limited areas covered by Operation Streamline or if they have been identified as convicted criminals.
Ms. Fobbs said that during fiscal 2007, a total of 136,712 Mexican nationals were returned home—67,793 of whom were identified as criminal aliens.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which is responsible for returning illegal immigrants to their countries of origin, is strapped for both resources and manpower to carry out the program. The Justice Department, asked to prosecute the newly-charged illegals, lacks the manpower to get the job done.
Law enforcement officials, however, also point to a lack of detention space as a critical concern, noting that border detention facilities already are overburdened by rising drug, sex and violent crime cases. An internal report by the Marshals Service in January said “the sheer number of prisoners” along the border “makes finding sufficient detention space on a daily basis particularly challenging.”