SAN DIEGO – The U.S. government is seeking to take advantage of its firmer grip on the border with Mexico to impose tougher consequences on nearly all detained undocumented immigrants, including first-time offenders.
The new approach will bring an end to the previous procedure of simply taking the fingerprints and photographs of most detained undocumented migrants and, unless they had been nabbed repeatedly trying to cross the frontier or found to have criminal records, later sending them back across the border in the same zone where they had been caught.
That previous policy has been gradually overhauled since 2009 with the introduction of the so-called “Consequence Delivery System,” which will be the focal point of changes that the U.S. Border Patrol is expected to announce soon and which the agency’s regional chief in San Diego, Mike Fisher, has already remarked upon in statements to the U.S. media.
The Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman in San Diego, Kerry Rogers, told Efe that these changes have already been implemented in some areas.
Among the changes, the new approach will permit the transfer of those captured in one geographical area to another border crossing hundreds of miles away.
The idea is to break illegal migrants’ links with the people smugglers who guided them across the border, though exceptions will be made for the most vulnerable individuals such as children and the medically ill, who will be repatriated at the nearest crossing.
This new strategy will depend, however, on the cooperation of other federal agencies because federal prosecutors must agree to take up illegal immigrant felony cases and Immigration and Customs Enforcement must have sufficient capacity at its detention centers.
“It worries us that the Obama administration, surely to combat perceptions of weakness on immigration with a view to the elections, is once again stiffening its policies without taking into account the impact on migrant communities,” Pedro Rios, an activist with the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego, told Efe.
He added that in a hasty bid to crack down on undocumented migrants legal due process may not be recognized or respected.
Thanks to aerial surveillance, an increased number of border agents and technological advances, nearly 90 percent of illegal border crossers in the El Paso, Yuma and San Diego sectors are captured.
Apprehensions of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border have fallen to 40-year lows, with just 447,731 illegal migrants detained during the 2010 fiscal year compared with close to 1 million annually in the 1980s and ‘90s.
The Obama administration has deported more than 1 million undocumented immigrants since 2009.
ICE spokesperson Lauren Mack told Efe that nearly 43 percent of people deported in San Diego during the 2011 fiscal year had criminal records, but Rios said the figures are deceiving because people whose only offense is to cross the border illegally are counted as criminals.
“A large majority have their lives in the United States, a family, a job, real estate. When they’re deported it splits their family, which is a human rights abuse,” Rios said. EFE