Border Agents Busting Illegal Immigrants Heading South; "Consequences" Replace Waves Goodbye

Illegal immigrants about to step over the line back into Mexico are increasingly pulled back for a short time so they can be arrested and tagged by U.S. authorities.

"We don't wave them through anymore," Brian Levin, an Arizona spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, tells New Times. "There's got to be some sort of consequences for the fact that they broke the law to begin with."

An advocacy law group announced this week that more than 5,000 illegal immigrants have been snagged at the border in the last few years, says an article today on the blog site, Fronteras.

Outbound searches at U.S. ports-of-entry are in place mainly to find guns and cash being smuggled to Mexico. But busting illegal immigrants also is worthwhile, according to Levin.

"We'll enroll them in our system so we have a record of the fact that they were here illegally," Levin says. "Then, yes, we send them off to Mexico."

People who have been deported officially by the United States are sometimes prosecuted for returning, as well as people who may be fugitives from justice, he says.

Last month, Levin relates, four people heading through the port-of-entry at San Luis admitted to agents that they'd recently carried backpacks full of illegal drugs into the country, "and they were going to walk out from the port-of-entry, expecting nothing to happen."

They were wrong, says Levin: Not only are they all getting prosecuted for entering the United States following deportation, but their $2,000 or so in earnings were seized.

For folks like the four talkative backpackers, the outbound bust makes sense. But it's easy to imagine that while our agents are futzing around with the illegal immigrants trying to get out of the United States, there are fewer agents available to stop the ones sneaking in.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.