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Dispatches: US Agency Questions Data on Border Crossers

Every year, tens of thousands of unauthorized migrants in the United States are prosecuted in rapid-fire mass hearings, sentenced to prison, and ultimately deported under “Operation Streamline.” US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has steadfastly said they have data proving that these prosecutions “work,” and that migrants who are prosecuted are less likely to cross the US border again. But a new government report released on Friday undermines this claim.

The report, released by the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security, found that CBP’s way of measuring whether or not deported migrants illegally cross the border again is inadequate. In short, they counted as non-repeat offenders all migrants who were not apprehended again in the same year they were prosecuted – the agency never tracked whether these people were apprehended in future years.  

The report also noted that CBP has no idea how much Streamline actually costs. Streamline requires resources not only from CBP, but also Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the US Attorney’s Office, US Marshals, Bureau of Prisons, and the federal courts. Without a cost estimate, the report pointed out, CBP cannot determine whether Streamline or some other action (such as straight deportation) “is appropriate given existing resources.”

Human Rights Watch has criticized these proceedings for due process and other rights violations, and we also questioned whether they actually deter people from crossing the border – particularly as we interviewed many who tried repeatedly to enter the US to return to US citizen family members after being deported. A recent US Sentencing Commission report looking specifically at migrants convicted of reentry found that 50 percent have children in the US.

The Homeland Security report also confirmed what we documented in our 2013 report: Border Patrol agents in some regions regularly refer migrants claiming fear of harm in their home countries to criminal prosecution. This, the report notes, “may violate US treaty obligations.”

Border prosecutions too often violate migrants’ rights to seek asylum, the right to family unity, and due process. The new report now confirms our own findings—the United States government has no idea if prosecuting border crossers actually prevents them from crossing again or if any deterrent benefit outweighs the human and financial costs. The Obama administration should end Operation Streamline.


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