A new report claims that the prosecution by the Obama administration of undocumented immigrants who cross the border into the United States is a major driving force in mass imprisonment. Fifty percent of all criminal cases in the federal court system of the United States in 2015 were against undocumented immigrants for unlawful entry to the country.
The Justice Strategies and Grassroots Leadership report also found that almost 25 percent of the entire federal prison population is non-citizens, 15 percent of which are Mexican nationals. Now, several US judges, responsible for sentencing thousands of undocumented immigrants, are calling for the end of this zero-tolerance policy, which they describe as ineffective.
One of those, Judge Felix Recio, who worked as a federal magistrate in Brownsville, Texas from 1999 to 2013, says that the only thing the policy has achieved is the destruction of the lives of people who have committed no other crimes. Four other retired federal judges also feature in the report, together with public defenders and former prosecutors. It takes a critical look at the “Operation Streamline” immigration enforcement initiative that is now several decades old.
Federal law means that undocumented immigrants can be sent to prison for six months, with those charged with reentry facing up to another two years. There was little enforcement of these laws until a directive under President George W Bush in 2005. This was expanded even further by the Obama administration. In the last 11 years, 750,000 immigrants have been prosecuted.