Many in Congress are counting on border walls to discourage illegal immigration and dope smuggling from Mexico. Here in Del Rio, authorities are using jail cells instead.
The ever-expanding Val Verde County jail is filled with would-be yardmen and maids, immigrants awaiting deportation. They’ve been caught in a law enforcement dragnet known as “Operation Streamline,” a zero-tolerance program that began here and has since spread both east and west along the Mexican border.
Critics of the lock-’em-up approach question the skyrocketing costs, complain of poor conditions inside the detention facilities, and predict that ultimately the efforts won’t stop immigrants and drugs from making their way north.
But supporters say the approach is reducing crime and discouraging immigrants from trying to cross into the United States. The number of illegal immigrants caught in the Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector is at its lowest level since the early 1970s.
“Enforcement works,” said Val Verde County Sheriff D’Wayne Jernigan. “We’re definitely seeing a reduction in crime throughout the border area and a reduction in the number of aliens running loose in our community.”
While the state prisoner population has remained flat at about 70 to 80 a day on average, the numbers serving time for immigration and drug offenses have skyrocketed, officials say.
Two brand new prisons specializing in federal detainees are also rising up along the Texas-Mexico border south of here—a 654-bed unit being erected in Eagle Pass and a 1,500-bed jail nearing completion in Laredo.