June 19, 2018


Explainer: Is the government required to separate immigrant families at the border? (Lomi Kriel, June 18, 2018, Houston Chronicle)

Is there a law requiring the separation of immigrant families at the border?


But crossing the U.S. border without a visa or other authorization and between official ports of entry has been a misdemeanor crime for decades.

Some say it was first proposed in 1929, when Coleman Livingston Blease, a pro-lynching Democratic senator from South Carolina, pushed it to cut down on Mexican immigration.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, speaking on "Meet the Press," argued that the policy is a function of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. Congress that year was controlled by Democrats and the president was Democrat Harry Truman.

Either way, the federal criminal statute was rarely used until the last decade, reserved instead for only the most egregious offenders or those with serious criminal records.

In 2005, President George W. Bush's administration launched "Operation Streamline,"  first as a pilot program in Del Rio, Texas.

Under that plan, aimed at deterring illegal border crossers, the government criminally prosecuted most migrants caught within a stretch of the border en masse and channeled them into the federal justice system, where the Bureau of Prisons has more resources to hold them for longer periods of time before they can be deported.

Over the next few years, similar prosecution initiatives were tried to varying degrees in six of the nine southwestern border sectors, except for California where U.S. Attorneys declined to take part.

Even under "Operation Streamline," U.S. attorneys rarely prosecuted parents traveling with their children.

One reason was that the White House, under both Bush and President Barack Obama, did not want to separate parents from their children, who by law cannot be held in federal prison.

But the sheer number of offenders, thousands a day, and the limited capacity of the federal courts also realistically meant most prosecutors used discretion in whom to charge.

The expense to the federal courts and Bureau of Prisons of criminalizing what is usually a civil offense is staggering. Detaining migrants on such charges alone costs some $1 billion a year, according to estimates by Grassroots Leadership, an advocacy group in Austin opposing incarceration.

Even without Trump's recent policy, the crime of illegal entry made up almost half of all federal cases and 80 percent of the dockets in the Western and Southern Districts of Texas, which includes Houston.

Posted by at June 19, 2018 4:23 AM