January 13, 2006

New program in Texas jails illegal immigrants

By Tim Gaynor

EAGLE PASS, Texas (Reuters) - A pilot program that jails
all illegal immigrants crossing into this Texas border town
from Mexico has led to a dramatic fall in numbers attempting
the journey, the U.S. Office of Border Patrol said on Friday.

A program known as Operation Streamline II, instituted on
December 12, is aimed mostly at non-Mexican illegal immigrants
who were arrested and released because Border Patrol agents did
not have sufficient space to jail them.

The blanket crackdown is also being applied to undocumented
Mexicans who were previously subject to criminal background
checks and released back over the Rio Grande without charges.

The U.S. Marshals Service has freed up 1,000 beds in
several county jails abutting the Border Patrol region that
includes Eagle Pass, Texas, to accommodate the growing number
of immigrants.

"The message is one of zero tolerance to all illegal
immigrants, whether they are Mexican or (non-Mexican)
nationals," said Hilario Leal, the U.S. Border Patrol's
spokesman for the sector that includes Eagle Pass.

"It appears to be getting out by word-of-mouth and through
the media south of the border, as the numbers attempting to
cross has fallen dramatically."

Since the pilot program began around Eagle Pass, 140 miles

west of San Antonio, the number of undocumented immigrants
picked up by Border Patrol agents has dwindled to 10 a day,
down from highs of around 150 a day in mid-2005, officials

The U.S. Office of Border Patrol said 740 illegal
immigrants have been arrested and charged with misdemeanor
illegal entry under the program. They are tried in federal
court and jailed for up to 180 days pending deportation to
their country of origin.

"We have lots of space, and we can handle all the prisoners
the court sends us," Deputy U.S. Marshal Tim Hughes said. "If
it grew to an incredible number we could send them out of

Each year, an unknown number of illegal immigrants, most
from Mexico and Latin America, cross the 2,000-mile (3,200-km)
border from Mexico, seeking a better life in the United States.
Last year, almost 1.2 million were nabbed making the journey.

A proposal in the U.S. Congress to build a steel fence
equipped with lights and security cameras has angered Mexico.