Arrests of illegal aliens along the US/Mexico border have increased
over the past year according to records of the US Department of
Homeland Security. The records show a 73 percent increase in arrests
and prosecutions over the past year. Officials attribute the increase
to Operation Streamline, through which illegal entrants are charged
with a misdemeanor crime, prosecuted and sent to jail. The program
began in the US Border Patrol's Del Rio sector more than two years ago
and, as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Del Rio, it appears to have
The rugged terrain on this section of the border was once a favored area for both human and drug smugglers. Before December 2005, Mexicans caught here by the Border Patrol were sent back across the border right away and citizens of other nations (OTMs) were released after being assigned a court date, for which very few of them ever showed up.
But under Operation Streamline any foreigner caught without documents here is arrested and faces, on average, a month-long jail sentence before being sent home. Border Patrol agent Mark Qualia says the increase in arrests and incarcerations has led to a significant drop in illegal border crossings.
"On Mexican apprehensions we are down 32 percent from when we initially started Operation Streamline and then 63 percent on the other than Mexicans, the OTMs," he noted.
Qualia says the same zero-tolerance approach is now being implemented elsewhere along the 3,000 kilometer border.
He says US citizens living along the border near Del Rio have expressed relief as the flow of immigrants and drug smugglers slows.
”Ranchers in the community have made several comments. Their fences are not as torn up. They don't see the traffic they used to see," he added. "So as a whole people are extremely pleased with what Operation Streamline has brought to this community."
But both illegal aliens and drug smugglers have another option here, water.
Just upstream from the town of Del Rio is a bi-national dam that holds back water from the Rio Grande and two other rivers to form the 263 square-kilometer reservoir called Lake Amistad.
The Border Patrol has its own little navy here, consisting of six patrol boats and a number of smaller craft. Agent Mark Nunez overseas some of the boat operations.
"We watch traffic that is coming in and out through here and, hopefully, if we see any kind of traffic that is coming in then we go ahead and intercept and inspect," he said.
Buoys mark the line between US and Mexican waters. Smugglers often position themselves in a cove in Mexican waters to begin their run across the lake to designated areas where they quickly offload the drugs for counterparts on the other side to retrieve. Nunez says constant patrols have made it harder for the traffickers.
"We have put a dent in some of their drug operations based on some of the operations we have been able to do out here with the boat," he added. "We have intensified the patrol and try to get as much patrol time out here as possible."
But Nunez says drug smugglers are not always easy to catch.
"Some of these boats are pretty quick and they are quicker than the patrol boats that we have," he noted.
The Border Patrol has asked for increased funds to buy faster boats in a never-ending effort to keep up with the smugglers whose operations are well funded by their illicit enterprises.