Border Patrol officials are sending as many as 40 illegal entrants a day for prosecution and jail time under a downsized version of the agency's zero- tolerance initiative.
Even though the process and the consequences for the selected illegal border crossers are the same as Operation Streamline — the program's name in the Yuma and Del Rio and Laredo, Texas, sectors where it's also in use — officials in the Tucson Sector are calling it an "enhanced enforcement operation," until they get approval from headquarters, said Jesús Rodriguez, a Tucson Sector spokesman.
"Once the numbers start to increase for prosecution, it will be called 'Streamline,' " said Rodriguez said.
The agency must be able to prosecute every single person caught in a designated zone, something that isn't happening yet in the Tucson Sector, for it to be called Operation Streamline, said Lloyd Easterling, a Border Patrol spokesman in Washington, D.C.
"That is not to say that Streamline won't be developing there," said Easterling. "It is very possible that it will be."
The entrants selected don't come from one designated zone but from across the sector's 262 miles, which stretches from the New Mexico line to the eastern edge of Yuma County, said Rob Daniels, another Tucson Sector spokesman. The agency is making about 950 apprehensions a day this month.
Under the program, illegal entrants face 15 to 180 days in jail even if it is their first arrest, a fate that used to be reserved only for repeat crossers and those with criminal records.
The maximum daily total of 40 people a day was agreed on by all the agencies involved based on the resources available, Daniels said.
In November, officials from the U.S. Marshals Office, U.S. District Court in Arizona and the U.S. Attorney's Office said they were struggling to find enough room in detention centers, attorneys to defend and prosecute, judges to sentence and law enforcement officials to supervise and transport the border crossers.
Although the exact number of people prosecuted since the initiative went into effect Jan. 14 wasn't available Wednesday, Wyn Hornbuckle, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona, said Border Patrol officials have been presenting between 30 and 40 illegal entrants a day for prosecution.
That's fewer than what the agency hoped to be prosecuting daily.
In late November, Robert Boatright, deputy Border Patrol chief in the Tucson Sector, said the agency wanted to launch the program in January with no fewer than 100 prosecutions a day, or 700 a week.
He called that the minimum necessary for Operation Streamline to have its desired effect.
The Border Patrol is working with the other agencies involved to expand the program but no date has been set, Easterling said.
They aren't frustrated by the scaled-back launch because it still sends an important message to would-be illegal border crossers that they face the possibility of being thrown in jail if they try crossing in the sector, Daniels said.
The agency launched Operation Streamline in December 2005 in the Border Patrol's Del Rio Sector. It also is being used in the Yuma and Laredo sectors.