Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are asking Attorney General Eric Holder to explain the Justice Department's apparent decision not to prosecute illegal immigrants who cross the U.S. border for the first time.
Their questions to Holder are a reaction to a letter that Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot wrote to Flake in August, which said he was told that the Justice Department was not prosecuting first-time offenders of U.S. immigration law.
Two Republican senators say they have evidence that the Department of Justice is no longer looking to prosecute all illegal immigrants who cross the border into the United States. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
"I have been informed that the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona will no longer be prosecuting first time undocumented aliens under 8§1325," Wilmot wrote to Flake.
Wilmot said he was told that only undocumented aliens with an adverse immigration history and/or a criminal conviction, and those found engaged in illegal activity, would be prosecuted. He said that represents a significant scaling back of Operation Streamline, a program started in 2006 aimed at boosting the prosecution of illegal immigrants.
"Now I'm being told that Operation Streamline is being scaled back to be more in line with the Tucson Sector and that first time offenders will not be prosecuted," he wrote. "I'm not sure why or how the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona came up with this idea."
Flake and McCain wrote a letter to Holder Monday to ask if these claims are true.
"[W]ith Central American family units and unaccompanied minors presenting a multi-agency challenge, it would appear an inopportune time to potentially be removing tools from the border security toolbox," they wrote.
"Has guidance been issued that would prevent prosecutions of first time illegal crossers under Operation Streamline in the Yuma Sector?" they asked. "In addition, in considering revisions to prosecutorial guidance in southern Arizona, were current border security impacts considered as well as impacts to future illegal traffic levels and issues faced border-wide?"
The two senators wrote that until now, Operation Streamline had helped reduce illegal border crossings at the Yuma Sector of the border, in large party because of the ability to prosecute illegal immigrants.
"A key part has been the implementation of Operation Streamline, the program seeking to reduce recidivism by expeditiously prosecuting those entering or reentering illegally under a 'zero tolerance' approach," they wrote. "The Yuma County Sheriff's Office sites 100 percent prosecution as a shared goal of a partnership including federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and sites Operation Streamline as an element in the recent success in reducing illegal crossings."
Read the letter from Flake and McCain here: