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.
Greg Flakus
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

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify Power Base

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs