News / USA

    Debate Reveals Divide on US Immigration

    Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 13, 2013, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on comprehensive immigration reform.
    Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 13, 2013, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on comprehensive immigration reform.
    Political observers say the only way for President Barack Obama to forge a bipartisan agreement on immigration reform is to convince Republicans in Congress that efforts to secure the border have worked. But civil libertarians and human rights groups are attacking the federal law enforcement program that officials say has helped reduce illegal border crossings. The debate over Operation Streamline reveals the deep divide over immigration reform.

    In a conference call Thursday sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, human rights activists and legal experts condemned the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency program originally called Operation Streamline when it was first tried in the Del Rio, Texas border sector several years ago.

    Almost all U.S. southern border sectors now use variations of the program, which involves charging every illegal entrant with a crime and registering them in a data bank.  Federal authorities credit the program with reducing illegal border crossings.

    But Kevin Appleby, who represents the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on migration affairs, says the program violates the rights of people seeking a better life.

    “Immigrants who cross the border looking for a job, looking for work or trying to re-unite with their families are not criminals and they should not be treated as criminals," said Appleby. "Imposing lengthy detention sentences on them, depriving them of due process, commingling them with other violent defenders is an inhumane process and should be stopped.”

    Grace Meng, representing Human Rights Watch, worked on a study of the practice, which she says many Americans may support without realizing the costs.

    “The American public probably has no idea how much these cases are taking up in the criminal docket, " said Meng. "Now over 50 percent of federal criminal cases are immigration cases. Illegal re-entry is the most prosecuted federal crime in this country.”

    Retired federal magistrate James Stiven, who spent more than a decade on the bench in the border city of San Diego, California, says he is glad the program was not implemented there.

    “Our workload and caseload would probably increase three- to five-fold if we had Operation Streamline in effect, creating not only due process concerns, but extreme versions of cost and expense on the judicial system within the jurisdiction where it is being operated," said Stiven.

    But U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials with experience in operating the zero-tolerance program say it is largely responsible for a sharp drop in illegal border crossings over the past few years. They also note that many of the people apprehended are given what is called “expedited removal.” If there is no indication the person violated any law other than crossing the border illegally, and the person is a first-time offender who pleads guilty, he or she can then be processed and sent back over the border in a few hours.

    The program is also defended by groups advocating stricter enforcement of U.S. immigration laws like the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR.  Spokesman Ira Mehlman says critics of the law enforcement program are against any effective measure.

    “The ACLU and others simply do not want illegal immigrants detained, they want them back out on the streets because they know very well that these folks are simply going to disappear," said Mehlman. "In many cases they are using aliases to begin with, they then go and use other aliases. You have to then expend resources to go out and find them again. If the ACLU is really that concerned about how we are expending our resources the last thing they would want is to have to go out and find those people all over again.”

    Mehlman agrees that border agents should put priority on stopping terrorists and drug smugglers, but he says any violation of the law should be addressed.   

    “Yes, we ought to pay special attention to people who pose a greater risk to American society, but that does not mean you should simply ignore all the other people who are violating our immigration laws," he said. "The reason we have immigration laws is that we understand that people who come to the United States illegally do have an adverse effect on a lot of people in this country.”

    While there have been indications of bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform in Congress, much of it has been bolstered by Obama administration figures showing that increased security on the Mexican border has worked.  Political observers say a move to abandon or radically alter an effective measure at this time could drive away support for the overall effort to reform the system.

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    Clinton, Sanders Fight for African American Votes

    Some African American lawmakers lining up to support Clinton in face of perceived surge by Sanders in race for Democratic nomination in presidential campaign

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.