The U.S. Border Patrol revived a prosecution program in June that targets undocumented border crossers the first time they are caught. The shift in prosecutions was a plan announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last April. It is designed to create a misdemeanor charge for the first offense, and then apply that misdemeanor as a previous criminal record if they are caught a second time. At that point, migrants could be prosecuted for a felony.
Daniel Hernandez, spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, said it's a return to Operation Streamline, a courtroom initiative that hoped to accomplish the same objective but was mostly only used for repeat border crossers.
"This program is different than the previous implementations because this one creates a criminal charge instead of an administrative charge and in previous implementations, we’ve seen a reduction in recidivism or re-rentry into the country," he said.
Overall illegal immigration has dropped dramatically since last year. In June, 21,000 people were arrested for crossing the southwest border illegally. Nearly twice that number were arrested in June 2016. Hernandez said the agency is using the program to prevent deaths in the desert; at least 80 people have been rescued in the desert this year. But when he announced the targeted misdeamenors in Nogales, Sessions introduced it as way to control quote lawlessness on the border.
"I believe here the intent is to send a message to returning immigrants that if they do make it to the border, they should expect to be incarcerated and then immediately returned," said Ruben Reyes with the American Immgiration Lawyers Association.
So far, 565 first-time offenders were charged with misdemeanors in June.