One major problem with attempting to use criminal prosecutions to deter illegal immigration is that U.S. courts simply aren't able to handle the resulting cases. While an attempt to file federal misdemeanor charges for illegal border crossings has decreased the number of migrants arrested along the Rio Grande, it is also threatening to overwhelm federal courts along the U.S.-Mexico border. Via The Monitor of McAllen, Texas:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection largely credits the disparity between declining apprehensions and rising prosecutions to one initiative—Operation Streamline.
Launched in Del Rio in 2005, the program places nearly every migrant caught crossing the border into criminal proceedings. Before, U.S. Border Patrol agents would detain first-time illegal migrants with no criminal history, slap them with a civil violation and return them to their home country.
Now, most are charged with federal misdemeanors. If this is a second or third offense, the consequences can result in a felony charge….
But while Streamline may have proven effective in rural areas like far West Texas and the Arizona border, courthouses in more urban centers like Laredo, McAllen and Brownsville have begun to show strain.
Laredo, which launched the program two years later, has seen nearly a 320-percent spike in misdemeanor prosecutions—from 3,260 in fiscal year 2007 to 13,664 in 2009—according to statistics provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The increased caseload is severe enough that federal judge in Austin issued an opinion last week putting prosecutors on notice that they would have to justify to the court every prosecution of a migrant without a criminal history. "The expenses of prosecuting illegal entry and re-entry cases on aliens without any significant criminal history is simply mind-boggling," wrote Judge Sam Sparks.
For more Reason on immigration reform, see "Immigration Now, Immigration Tomorrow, Immigration Forever" from the August/September 2006 issue.