Courts unable to keep up with border arrests

Courts unable to keep up with border arrests
The government has started cracking down on illegal border crossers in the Tucson Sector. But limited resources in Arizona’s federal-court system are blocking the goal of prosecuting everyone who enters the country illegally.

The Border Patrol has referred 757 cases to authorities since the government began prosecuting illegal crossers in the Tucson area on Jan. 14. Up to 42 are prosecuted daily, and there are plans to prosecute up to 100 cases a day in the busiest human-smuggling area on the border.

But federal courts in Tucson can hold only 60 immigration defendants a day, and even if they could handle the 100-a-day workload, that amounts to prosecuting only 10 percent of those arrested by the Border Patrol.

Still, officials expect the threat of prosecution and prison time to deter illegal crossers.

The Operation Streamline policy, which has proved effective in the Yuma Sector and two parts of Texas, involves filing charges against nearly everyone caught crossing the border illegally.

Mexican authorities confirm that illegal immigrants have been deterred from crossing into the Yuma Sector by the prospect of spending two weeks to six months in prison for the misdemeanor crime.

Historically, illegal immigrants have immediately been shipped back to Mexico if they did not have criminal records. Foreign criminals are deported after serving their prison sentences. And if they are caught re-entering illegally again, they are charged with felonies, which can carry sentences up to five years.

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