Federal law enforcers have increased criminal prosecutions of immigration violators to record levels, in part by filing minor charges against virtually every person caught illegally crossing some stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border, the Washington Post reports. Officials say the threat of prison and a criminal record is a powerful deterrent, one that is helping drive down illegal immigration along the 2,000-mile frontier between the U.S. and Mexico. Critics say the government lacks the resources to sustain the strategy and that it is diverting resources from more serious crimes such as drug and human smuggling.
Before Operation Streamline, as the program is known, most Mexican nationals caught at the border were fingerprinted and returned to Mexico without criminal charges. Criminalizing illegal immigration while turning a blind eye to employers who provide the jobs that lure migrants makes for good election-year politics but poor policy, said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council. “This strategy pretty much has it backwards,” he said. “It’s going after desperate people who are crossing the border in search of a better way of life, instead of going after employers who are hiring people who have no right to work in this country.” Officials say Streamlne and other measures contributed to a 20 percent drop in apprehensions of illegal immigrants on the U.S.-Mexico border in 2007, to 859,000. That is on track to drop 15 percent more this year.