January 18, 2012 in Nation/World

Border patrol plans tougher enforcement

Elliot Spagat Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

A man waits to be processed at a Border Patrol detention center last week in Imperial Beach, Calif. The Border Patrol plans stiffer consequences for illegal crossers.
(Full-size photo)

Fast fact

The number of U.S. Border Patrol agents has more than doubled since 2004 to 21,000.

SAN DIEGO – The U.S. Border Patrol is moving to halt a revolving-door policy of sending migrants back to Mexico without any punishment.

The agency this month is overhauling its approach on migrants caught illegally crossing the 1,954-mile border that the United States shares with Mexico. Years of enormous growth at the federal agency in terms of staff and technology have helped drive down apprehensions of migrants to 40-year lows.

The Border Patrol now feels it has enough of a handle to begin imposing more serious consequences on almost everyone it catches from Texas to San Diego. The “Consequence Delivery System” divides border crossers into seven categories, ranging from first-time offenders to people with criminal records.

Punishments vary by region but there is a common thread: Simply turning people around after taking their fingerprints is the choice of last resort. Some, including children and the medically ill, will still get a free pass by being turned around at the nearest border crossing, but they will be few and far between.

“What we want to be able to do is make that the exception and not necessarily the norm,” Fisher told the Associated Press.

Consequences can be severe for detained migrants and expensive to American taxpayers, including felony prosecution or being taken to an unfamiliar border city hundreds of miles away to be sent back to Mexico. One tool used during summers in Arizona involves flying migrants to Mexico City, where they get one-way bus tickets to their hometowns. Another releases them to Mexican authorities for prosecution south of the border. One puts them on buses to return to Mexico in another border city that may be hundreds of miles away.

The new tactics are part of the Border Patrol’s new national strategy that is to be announced within weeks – and follow several changes along the border in recent years.

The number of agents since 2004 has more than doubled to 21,000. The Border Patrol has blanketed one-third of the border with fences and other physical barriers, and spent heavily on cameras, sensors and other gizmos. Major advances in fingerprinting technology have vastly improved intelligence on border-crossers. In the 2011 fiscal year, border agents made 327,577 apprehensions on the Mexican border, down 80 percent from more than 1.6 million in 2000. It was the Border Patrol’s slowest year since 1971.

© Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email