It will be hard to distinguish who has and doesn't have papers in Laredo. Most of the city speaks Spanish. Many are originally from Mexico. The Bush Administration's new "zero tolerance" operation is rather frightening. Actually Michael Chertoff is too. I saw a photograph of him in the 1980's with his colleague Rudy Guiliani. Guess Cherthoff has always been a law and order man. Maybe he wants to clean up the U.S. like his friend Guiliani cleaned up New York.
In most states "cleaning up" means getting rid of the Latinos. However, the thing is, you can't "clean up" Laredo. Its too Mexican. People constantly cross over the river to work, shop and go to school on the American side.
Thank goodness this isn't 1940. If it would have happened then, ICE officers in Laredo would have picked up my father.
Immigration crackdown expands along border
Laredo effort signals an end to return without prosecutions
By JAMES PINKERTON
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
October 26, 2007
The U.S. Border Patrol plans to announce today a "zero tolerance" operation to prosecute, jail and deport all illegal immigrants caught in the bustling Laredo area, marking a significant tightening of immigration enforcement along a key U.S. border corridor.
This stepped-up effort is an expansion of the Border Patrol's "Operation Streamline" project in the Del Rio and Yuma, Ariz., sectors, which sharply reduced illegal entries. That is being expanded to the sprawling Laredo sector beginning Wednesday, officials confirmed.
Extending the operation to a large, populous sector such as Laredo — the nation's largest inland port and a growing commercial center — signals a major expansion of a strategy officials plan to implement along the entire Southwest border.
It is a key facet of a Bush administration crackdown not only on the border — where National Guard troops now work with Border Patrol agents — but in the interior, where immigration agents have raided work sites and are targeting fraudulent work documents.
"This program is sending the message we're not letting illegal border-crossers have a free ride," Border Patrol assistant chief Ramon Rivera said. "We're hoping it goes nationwide."
Reactions to the project range from strong support to serious doubts about clogging already overloaded federal courts. More arrests mean more prosecutions, more court dates.
"The idea of doing in Laredo what they do in Del Rio is really terrifying for us," said Marjorie Meyers, who heads the Federal Public Defenders office in Houston, which oversees the Laredo area. "There is no way we can handle it."
Rivera said after the operation began in the Del Rio sector, apprehensions dropped by 46 percent from October 2006 to August, compared with the 2005-06 fiscal year. Agency intelligence indicated that human traffickers have shifted operations downriver to Laredo, he said.
The "zero tolerance" effort ends voluntary return in Laredo, a historic shift in enforcement. For decades, illegal immigrants from Mexico detained on the border were allowed to return home — if they did not have criminal records — without being prosecuted, often the same day they were apprehended.
And last year, Border Patrol ended "catch-and-release," the practice of freeing non-Mexican illegal immigrants after giving them a notice to appear before an immigration judge. Most immigrants never kept their court dates, officials acknowledged.
Dockets will fill up
The Laredo sector takes in 171 miles of Rio Grande frontage, extending to the Oklahoma border and including San Antonio and Dallas.
Details of the operation's coverage within the sector would be released today, officials said.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, supports the operation but acknowledged it could add to strained border dockets.
"At the beginning, you'll see a spike in cases in the court but after awhile it will go down because it will be a deterrent," Cuellar said. "There's a criminal (smuggling) network out there ... and they'll get the message pretty quickly that if they come they're going to serve time."
Cuellar said he has sponsored legislation to add three federal judges to South Texas, and hopes one will be assigned to Laredo.
Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas, a retired FBI official, said the government has a duty to enforce the law but he's not certain it will work.
Salinas instead favors an expanded guest worker program for immigrants.
"The underlying solution to illegal immigration is solid, comprehensive reform legislation now — the longer we wait, the worse it gets," he said.
Mexican officials, who have been invited to attend today's announcement at sector headquarters in Laredo, said they would wait to comment.
"'It's very important for us," said Javier Abud, the Mexican consul in Laredo. "It's a very sensitive operation for our Mexican nationals."
When the pilot program began in Del Rio in December 2005, courtrooms were packed with undocumented immigrants who were prosecuted, jailed and then deported. But despite the crowding, there was sufficient space in area jails to house the immigrants.
The majority of the illegal immigrants are expected to be charged with entry without inspection, Border Patrol officials said. The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum 180-day jail sentence.
After they serve their time, they are deported. Those with previous deportations, or criminal convictions, face more serious felony charges carrying maximum penalties of up to 20 years in prison.
Rivera said the Laredo area has sufficient detention space in three jails.
Meanwhile, Meyers, with the Federal Public Defenders office, is concerned that the 17 attorneys in the Laredo office won't be able to provide effective representation to an expected influx of indigent clients.
"These cases are not simple," Meyers said. "We've had cases with people who thought they were aliens and turned out they were U.S. citizens. So it's not something where you say, 'OK, you're guilty, see you later.' "
'They've done just fine'
U.S. court officials in Laredo referred questions about staffing issues to Houston officials, who were not available for comment.
However, Rivera said the Laredo operation is a joint effort of the Border Patrol, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the U.S. courts, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Marshals Service and other agencies.
"The same question was brought up in the Del Rio sector, and they've done just fine," said Rivera, referring to legal representation. "Remember, we're working in collaboration with other entities ... everybody is working overtime on this."
And, the Border Patrol is expecting big results in the Laredo sector.
"Laredo has a bigger city on the Mexican side, so we're hoping we get a better return out of this operation than in Del Rio," Rivera said.