Gage says the issue affects about 18,000 CBP employees nationwide, and about 1,000 in the El Paso area. He says they plan to lobby in Washington D.C. for changes.
DOD calls time out to simplify NSPS
BY Florence Olsen
Published on Jan. 19, 2006
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The Defense Department has hit the brakes on implementing the National Security Personnel System (NSPS), its controversial new pay system and workplace rules. Citing a need to respond to feedback from DOD employees, supervisors and union leaders, NSPS program executives temporarily halted training classes designed to teach the basics of the new system. They also scaled back their initial implementation plans.
NSPS program executives “need more time to focus on simplifying the performance management design, getting performance objectives right and ensuring the system is simple, clear and understandable,” said Mary Lacey, NSPS program executive officer, in a Dec. 23, 2005, memo to NSPS program managers. DOD authorized only one organization, the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, to proceed with NSPS training and provide feedback to the department.
Gordon England, acting deputy Defense secretary, said last October that if DOD encountered problems as it was implementing the new rules, it would slow down the program. Since then, DOD has encountered problems with the design of its performance management objectives, and it needs to fix those before proceeding, Lacey said.
In her memo, Lacey advised the program managers to proceed with training courses designed to teach leadership, communications and similar skills. But she said it would be foolish to proceed with NSPS-specific training until DOD officials “take the time to do this right.”
In scaling back its initial implementation plans, the department announced this week that it would shift only 11,000 rather than 300,000 civilian employees to NSPS for the first performance rating cycle under the new pay system. That shift will occur April 30.
Army Pentagon officials responded to the slowdown by asking managers to continue NSPS activities related to reviewing job classifications and creating pay pool rules and new compensation policies.
In a statement on behalf of 260,000 DOD civilian employees, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees said DOD cannot afford the $75 million or more that it might cost to move the first 300,000 employees to the new pay system. “At a time when our troops are fighting for their lives and need every possible resource, implementing this severely flawed and incomplete system would be a grotesque misuse of taxpayer dollars,” said John Gage, the union’s national president.
DOD expects to eventually shift about 700,000 civilian employees to the new personnel system.
Legal challenges from AFGE and other unions could further slow DOD’s implementation of the system. The first hearing in an AFGE-led lawsuit challenging the legality of NSPS is set for Jan. 24 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Personnel system for Arsenal workers delayed
By Ed Tibbetts
The Defense Department has delayed implementation of a new personnel system that would have affected hundreds of Arsenal Island workers.
The Pentagon announced the delay Tuesday, saying it needs more time to simplify aspects of the program and make it more understandable. As a result, the earliest Arsenal workers would be affected is October, an official said.
Called the National Security Personnel System, it was to have taken effect early this year, but the Pentagon took a step back this week, delaying implementation for the first group of workers until April 30.
It also has significantly pared back the number of people who fall into the first group of workers, delaying implementation for thousands of workers nationwide, as well as hundreds of people on Arsenal Island.
The aim of the work rules is to make it easier to reward exemplary service and correct poor performance, the government says. It also would change how the Pentagon deals with unions representing its workers.
Union officials have criticized the proposal, saying it short-circuits appeal and bargaining rights, and they have challenged it in court. Area union leaders said they welcome the delay.
“We told them all along they were rushing into it,” said Tom Esparza, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 15.
Esparza conceded that the new system will no doubt be implemented, but he hopes the delay will mean improvements in areas pertaining to appeal rights for employees, reduction-in-force procedures and unions.
Gale Smith, an Arsenal spokesperson, said about 280 people working for the Civilian Human Resources Agency remain among the first group of employees who will fall under the new system April 30.
They are among about 11,000 people nationwide who will be affected. Initially, that group totaled about 65,000 people, but the figure has been cut back significantly.
About 1,530 people working for the Tank-automotive and Armaments Command, the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center and the Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center had been part of that first group, but now they will see their implementation date delayed until October, Smith said.
Blue-collar workers in the manufacturing center of the island are not affected.
Employees of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Installation Management Agency and the garrison also have seen their implementation dates delayed, but it was not immediately clear when their new effective dates will be.
The earliest workers at the Army Field Support Command and the Joint Munitions Command would be affected is January 2007.
Auditors investigating price tag of Defense personnel reforms
By Karen Rutzick
Congressional auditors are investigating the cost of implementing the Pentagon's new personnel system, in response to a request from four senators.
The Government Accountability Office is looking into the Defense Department's budget for training, communications, technology and other infrastructure needed to implement the National Security Personnel System, said Derek Stewart, GAO's director of defense capabilities and management.
The Pentagon has floated a rough estimate of $158 million, but employee groups call that figure a gross underestimation. Stewart said GAO wants to make sure Congress has an accurate idea of the cost so it can be assured that Defense is allotting enough money for the massive human resources overhaul.
"How can the Congress be assured that DoD is going to devote the necessary resources to implement and maintain the system effectively and efficiently, given all the other competing demands in the Pentagon?" Stewart said. "What I want somebody to show me is there's a commitment to the resources to make this happen. That can be a budgetary line item; it can be a pot of money that's dedicated to NSPS just sitting off to the side with a fence around it."
The review comes at the request of Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman and ranking member of the committee's Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia.
"It is rare that we get a request signed by a chairman and a ranking member of a full committee and subcommittee," Stewart said. "So that created an importance for us to look at NSPS cost."
Nanci Langley, deputy staff director for the Democrats on the subcommittee, said that Akaka, for one, is not convinced there are adequate resources to fund the reforms.
"All the signatories agree that adequate resources are needed for the system to be effective, fair and transparent," Langley said.
GAO elevated the senators' request to the level of a "Comptroller General Authority" because of the high level of congressional interest in the issue. That designation will give the auditors more authority to set their own timeline for the research and will allow them to gather and disseminate more information during the process. Stewart said his group hopes to have its work complete by the fall.
NSPS program executive officer Mary Lacey said her office was not aware the GAO was taking place, but that officials there look forward to working with auditors.
Stewart said much of his group's work will involve visiting each Defense Department component to determine its budget forecast for NSPS -- a task no one within the department has completed to lawmakers' satisfaction. He said he believes there is a valid explanation for why a more concrete and -- in the opinion of many -- accurate estimate was never gathered by the Pentagon itself.
"There is an NSPS program office, but that program office doesn't fit neatly under any other office within the Pentagon," Stewart said. "Well, then, whose responsibility is it to roll up the cost? It's not the program office; their responsibility is to design the program and get it implemented."
Stewart said his study most likely will not examine the cost of paying employees under the new system, but his auditors will keep their eyes open for any concerns about that.
War on drugs sparks incursions, officials say
By Anna Cearley and Leslie Berestein
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
January 20, 2006
An increased Mexican military presence along the border over the past decade could be making it more likely that Mexican and U.S. authorities are crossing paths, according to several border law enforcement experts.
"The military in recent years is being drawn into the war on drugs," said David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute, based at the University of San Diego.
Victor Clark, a Tijuana-based human rights activist who follows drug trends, said "there is more militarization along the border because the U.S. is pressuring to have more there."
In recent days, reports of incursions along the border by Mexican authorities have caused a media and political frenzy, despite assertions from Homeland Security officials that incursions by authorities on both sides are, though not frequent, fairly common.
"It's important to put this in perspective," said Mike Friel, a Washington spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol. "Incursions do happen on both sides, but for the most part they are infrequent. Generally these incursions are situations that happen when authorities are pursuing criminals, usually in unmarked stretches of the border. These reports of the incursions are being overblown."
Friel added that criminals also have been known to pose as Mexican authorities.
Some proponents of stronger border enforcement say the incursions are an indication that powerful drug smugglers have compromised some members of the Mexican military.
Earlier this week, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said there are an average of about 20 incidents a year in which Mexican police or military might set foot on U.S. soil, but that "a significant number of those are innocent things . . . because they're not aware of exactly where the line is."
Chertoff's comments were in reaction to a newspaper report that the Mexican military had crossed 216 times into the United States since 1996. The story was published in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin of Ontario.
The statistics were attributed to a Homeland Security report, although a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman said yesterday he had not seen the report.
Even though the potential for violence is high in such encounters, most ended with Mexican forces retreating, said T.J. Bonner, the San Diego-based president of the National Border Patrol Council, the Border Patrol agents' union.
Bonner said he didn't have statistics for incursions along the California border, and recalled one major incident six years ago. In October 2000, two Border Patrol agents encountered armed men in military-style uniforms about eight miles east of the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, Bonner said.
According to Bonner, the agents came under fire and the assailants pursued them into United States before backing off. Mexican authorities later confirmed a military group was operating in the area, but said it didn't step into U.S. territory. U.S. authorities later said there wasn't evidence the agents were shot at, and closed the case despite criticism of downplaying the incident.
In July 2000, Mexican officials decried what they called a deliberate incursion on the part of two Border Patrol officials, who crossed into Mexican territory to detain individuals; U.S. officials said the agents thought they were still on U.S. soil.
Alberto Lozano, a spokesman for the Mexican consulate in San Diego, noted that the consulate had still not seen a copy of any report detailing Mexican incursions.
"The Mexican military has never deliberately stepped onto U.S. soil, and every incident or supposed incursion has been investigated and clarified," he said.
Meanwhile, politicians in favor of stricter border enforcement have taken the opportunity to promote various security proposals. U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., took to television and radio yesterday to promote an amendment calling for increased aerial surveillance that he made to the recently passed HR 4437 border security bill.
"Our borders are under attack by sophisticated organizations that have no qualms about firing upon our Border Patrol units," he stated in a news release Wednesday.
Though the Mexican military hasn't traditionally been involved in combating drug trafficking, Mexico has turned to the military over the past decade because it's considered less corruptible than police agencies.
That isn't always true, however. For example, in 1997 a top Mexican general who went on to lead an anti-drug group was linked to a major drug cartel.
Bonner, the Border Patrol union chief, said he suspected that many of the incursions are drug-related. "Our agents are convinced that they are facilitating the entry of drugs, whether they are rogue units or recognized units," Bonner said.
Bonner said he believes anyone patrolling the border has a clear idea of where the boundaries are. Shirk, the Trans-Border Institute director, and Clark, the human rights activist, disagreed.
"It's not a very clear line drawn in the sand," Shirk said. "It goes through valleys and over mountains and across vast stretches of desert. There has been a number of incursions – in both directions, I think it's important to say – across this line."
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White flag border security
By Dimitri Vassilaros
Friday, January 20, 2006
"The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" was disturbingly prophetic.
The 1948 film classic starred Humphrey Bogart as Fred C. Dobbs, an American prospector in Mexico. A band of Mexican bandits led by Alfonso Bedoya playing Gold Hat try to disarm Dobbs and the two other American miners with him to get their gold.
"We are federales ... you know, the mounted police," Gold Hat says. "If you're the police, where are your badges?" Dobbs asks. As Gold Hat pauses between each line in his brief monologue, he spits out his immortal response, "Badges!?... We ain't got no badges. ... We don't need no badges! ... I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!"
But along the southern border today, Mexicans acting as federales are crossing over into the United States and using their AK-47s to shoot at Americans.
A Department of Homeland Security document cites 216 incidents since 1996 where Mexican military personnel crossed the U.S.-Mexican border and were spotted or confronted by the Border Patrol, according to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin newspaper in California. And a map bearing the seal of the president's Office of National Drug Control Policy, dated 2001, shows the locations of 34 of those incursions across the southwest United States.
"Our vests will not stop an AK-47," Rich Pierce told me on Tuesday. Mr. Pierce is the vice president of the National Border Patrol Council union, which represents the agents.
The Border Patrol stopped a vehicle and arrested the nine Mexican soldiers in it in 2000. But the State Department ordered their release, the return of their weapons and their repatriation to Mexico, Pierce said. And about two months ago, the Border Patrol in Texas intercepted a dump truck carrying marijuana. The Mexican military crossed the border and pulled the truck back across the border into Mexico, Pierce said.
"We are starting to believe we need our military to protect our agents," Pierce said. "A war is something we are not prepared for. Or a military incursion."
The Border Patrol did not respond to my calls and e-mail requesting comment.
However, the Border Patrol has warned agents in Arizona of incursions into the United States by Mexican soldiers who are "trained to escape, evade and counterambush" if detected, according to The Washington Times. The agents also are warned to keep "a low profile," to use "cover and concealment" in approaching the Mexican units, to employ "shadows and camouflage" to conceal themselves and to "stay as quiet as possible."
Why not just wave the white flag?
Come to think of it, that is how the Bush administration is responding to the Mexican invasion of illegal aliens and the Mexican military incursions. That, and offering surrender terms allowing the illegal foreigners to legally call themselves American citizens.
The Third Reich surrendered with more dignity during World War II.
Would it be asking too much of President Bush to send one -- just one -- of those remote-controlled Predator drone reconnaissance airplanes armed with a Hellfire anti-tank missile to protect our brave men and women who -- for the past decade -- have been in harm's way without proper body armor?
"It won't be long until someone dies," Pierce said. "We expect the federal government to do something now before we say 'we told you so.'"
Dimitri Vassilaros can be reached at email@example.com or 412-380-5637.
Congress must probe reports of border incursions
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Congress must heed Rep. David Dreier’s call for a full investigation of reports that Mexican military personnel have crossed the border into the United States more than 200 times in the past decade.
Daily Bulletin reporter Sara A. Carter broke this national story Sunday after obtaining a Department of Homeland Security document showing 216 such incursions since 1996 and an Office of National Drug Control Policy map showing 23 incursions in 2001.
Border Patrol agents and some members of Congress have said that Mexican soldiers cross the border to help drug traffickers and human smugglers enter the United States.
‘‘It’s horrifying,” Dreier, R-Glendora, said of the incursion reports. ‘‘This is the kind of stuff that we feared, and it is certainly a threat to our national security.”
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff downplayed the reports Wednesday, even as he acknowledged that the Border Patrol has long known of incursions by uniformed troops, which he confirmed have averaged about 20 a year for a decade. Chertoff suggested that most of the incidents were caused by soldiers unable to pinpoint the border or criminals wearing military uniforms.
Chertoff’s attitude is representative of the callousness with which many federal officials treat Border Patrol officers. They make a lot of noise about securing our borders, but show little support or concern for the men and women who are trying to do that job.
T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, counters with incidents such as the capture in 2000, on the U.S. side of the border, of 16 Mexican soldiers who had fired on agents, and the July shooting of two agents by men dressed as Mexican soldiers.
Carter and fellow reporter Mason Stockstill reported Jan. 10 on a confidential Homeland Security memo obtained by the Daily Bulletin that said Mexican smugglers planned to hire violent MS-13 gang members to murder U.S. Border Patrol agents. Yet many agents, including union chief Bonner, were unaware of the Officer Safety Alert until contacted by the Daily Bulletin – 19 days after the Dec. 21 date on the federal alert. ‘‘I think Washington doesn’t want the public to know how bad it really is,” Bonner said.
Dreier, at least, is taking the threats and the incursions seriously. Even as a congressional leader, chairman of the House Rules Committee, a close associate of the president and an important player in U.S.-Mexico relations, Dreier said he was unaware of the federal incursion documents until the Daily Bulletin reported on them. He contacted Mexican government officials Wednesday about the issue, in addition to calling for Congress to act.
And act it must, to determine the extent of the Mexican military’s involvement. This issue is a microcosm of the larger issue of illegal immigration, where federal inaction over many years has resulted in a dysfunctional system that is unfair to all – except perhaps the business interests that benefit from low-wage labor. Congress and the White House must act this year to increase legal immigration, stiffen penalties and enforcement against the hiring of undocumented workers, and bring the 11 million illegal immigrants already here out of the shadows.
But first, they must investigate thoroughly the reported military incursions and threats against the Border Patrol, and give agents the numbers, equipment and support they need.
The Albuquerque Tribune
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Report: Mexican soldiers step over line
Military units have crossed onto American soil 216 times since 1996, it said.
By Associated Press
January 19, 2006
SAN DIEGO - SAN DIEGO - Reports of Mexican soldiers frequently crossing onto U.S. soil are overblown, and many of the incidents are just mistakes, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said.
Chertoff's remarks followed a newspaper report that Mexican military units had crossed into the United States 216 times since 1996. The report by the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin of Ontario on Sunday was based on a Homeland Security Department report.
Chertoff estimated there were only about 20 crossings a year, and said "a significant number of those are innocent things" in which police or military from Mexico step across the border because they're not aware of exactly where the line is.
"I think to create the image that somehow there is a deliberate effort by the Mexican military to cross the border would be to traffic in scare tactics," he said Wednesday.
Rafael Laveaga, a spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, declined to comment. He stood by earlier remarks that the Mexican military has never deliberately stepped onto U.S. soil. He declined to say if there were any unintentional crossings.
The head of a labor union that represents about 10,500 U.S. Border Patrol agents dismissed Chertoff's remarks as a "diplomatic response" to a long-running problem on the U.S.-Mexico border.
"It really doesn't surprise me that he's playing the diplomat," said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council. "This is a guy whose time on the border can be measured in hours, not years."
Bonner said Mexican soldiers - possibly some Army deserters - are providing protection for drug runners.
"It's all about the drugs," he said. "The lure of the riches of the cartel, they're too many for many of their solders to resist, whether they're corrupted on active duty or take up with other bands."
Homeland Security recorded an annual average of 21.6 Mexican military incursions since the 1996 fiscal year, according to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Incidents peaked at 40 in 2002 and dropped to nine in the 2005 fiscal year that ended in September.
The Border Patrol's El Centro sector, which covers southeastern California, recorded the most incursions since 1996 (58); followed by Tucson, Ariz., (39); El Paso, (33); and McAllen, Texas, (28); according to the newspaper. Del Rio, Texas, recorded only three incidents, the fewest of the agency's nine sectors along the southwest border.
Peter Nunez, the U.S. attorney in San Diego from 1982 to 1988, said it was difficult to know if the reports are overblown without additional information.
"Who's reporting these things?" he said. "What are the details?"
Copyright 2006, The Albuquerque Tribune. All Rights Reserved.
Tight Immigration Policy Hits Roadblock of Reality
By RACHEL L. SWARNS
New York Times
McALLEN, Tex. - In September, domestic security officials promised to tighten control of the border with Mexico by swiftly deporting all illegal immigrants seized there, ending the practice of releasing thousands of illegal immigrants to the streets each year because of shortages of beds in detention centers.
The move was hailed by President Bush and Republicans in Congress, who said the policy would deter the surging numbers of illegal immigrants who cross the murky swells of the Rio Grande here or scramble across the border in Arizona and California. But in this border town on the front lines of the efforts to combat illegal immigration, some Border Patrol agents say they continue to face an uphill battle, with too many illegal immigrants and too few detention beds.
In the first three months of the 2006 fiscal year, the number of illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico who were caught crossing the border surged nearly 30 percent compared with the corresponding period last year, notwithstanding hopes that the policy would deter such would-be immigrants.
Despite the promise of nearly 2,000 more detention beds to ensure that illegal immigrants do not flee before being deported, thousands continue to be released with notices to appear in court.
One morning in January, a month when, typically, relatively few illegal immigrants cross the river, no detention beds were available for women here and none for families, Border Patrol officials said.
Nationally, 18,207 illegal immigrants, nearly 60 percent of the total apprehended, were released on their own recognizance in the first three months of this fiscal year.
But officials say progress is clearly being made. The number of illegal Brazilian immigrants apprehended soared last summer but plunged more than 90 percent in the month after the strict detention and deportation policy started. The number of illegal immigrants from Honduras who were caught dropped 33 percent.
Officials remain confident that the policy will be applied across the board by October, as planned.
Some Congressional analysts and immigration agents remain doubtful about meeting the deadline.
To illegal immigrants seized these days, the decision to release or deport often seems to depend on luck.
Sebastián Zapeta Toc, 25, a Guatemalan who paddled across the Rio Grande in an inner tube, was snared under the strict deportation policy, known as expedited removal. Mr. Zapeta Toc was told that he would be detained and deported without seeing an immigration judge.
"We're going to send you back to your country," a border agent, Jaime Sanchez, told him.
On the same day, 12 illegal Chinese immigrants, including three young women who dreamed of catching a bus to New York, were released with notices to appear in court. A woman from El Salvador who sorted coffee beans there, and three people from Eritrea were also released.
Statistics show that 70 percent of these immigrants, classified by domestic security officials as "other than Mexican" or "O.T.M.'s," fail to appear for their court dates.
Mexicans continue to arrive in much larger numbers than citizens of other countries. Apprehensions have remained mostly stable for three years, officials said, and 90 percent of illegal immigrants from Mexico are returned within hours of capture. But the number of non-Mexicans crossing the border illegally has soared after smugglers learned that illegal immigrants were being released upon being seized, officials said.
The officials said the number of illegal immigrants released with court notices would continue to decrease as new beds become available. Speedier deportations will also free up beds, they added.
A study released last fall by the Congressional Research Service, an arm of Congress, said officials would still "not have enough beds to accommodate every O.T.M." this year, even with the added slots.
Some immigration agents fear that the bed shortage will worsen in the spring and summer, when illegal immigrants' crossings typically increase. Officials acknowledge that the shortage of detention space has forced them to detain some groups of illegal immigrants, primarily Central Americans, who arrive in the largest numbers, while releasing others.
But even with the difficulties, officials say they are moving more aggressively than before.
The number of people processed through expedited removal increased to 10,607 in the first quarter of this fiscal year, up from 4,227 in the first quarter of last year, official figures show.
Although the number of illegal immigrants released on their own recognizance remains high, it is not as high as last year. In the 2005 fiscal year, 70 percent of illegal immigrants classified as "other than Mexican" were released.
" 'Catch and release' has been reduced dramatically," said the chief of the Border Patrol, David V. Aguilar.
Chief Aguilar said officials were working to address the shortage of detention space and to streamline deportations by encouraging nations to accept their citizens more readily when they are returned.
"The commitment has been to go from a situation of 'catch and release' to a situation of 'catch and remove,' " Chief Aguilar said. "And that's the direction we're moving in."
A spokeswoman for the White House, Erin Healy, said President Bush was encouraged by the decline in the number of Brazilians who have been seized.
"When illegal immigrants know they will be caught and sent home promptly," Ms. Healy said, "they're going to be less likely to cross the border illegally in the first place."
T. J. Bonner, the president of the union of Border Patrol agents, said many agents remained frustrated.
"They're claiming that they're placing everyone into expedited removal, and that that will solve the problem," Mr. Bonner said. "The truth is that we simply don't have the detention space to hang on to people in any substantive manner to deter anyone from coming into this country."
The problem has ballooned as tens of thousands of illegal immigrants from countries like Brazil and El Salvador, along with others as far afield as India and Romania, wade into the rushing river here in hopes of reaching the United States.
In the 2003 fiscal year, 49,545 illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico were seized crossing the Southwestern border. By the 2005 fiscal year, which ended last September, the figure had jumped to 155,000. In addition, concerns have been growing about the possibility of border crossings by gang members and terrorists.
Border Patrol agents say smugglers have been quick to find loopholes in the new rules.
In recent months, some illegal immigrants have begun claiming to be from El Salvador because a court ruling from the 1980's, when civil war wracked that country, requires officials to allow Salvadorans to see judges before deportation. Domestic security officials are trying to change that.
And the shortage of detention space for families has led to an increase in the number of unrelated illegal immigrants who say they are families.
"It filters back," said Ed Payan, assistant chief of the Border Patrol station here. "They know who is being let go."
Such loopholes have left holes in what many frustrated agents had hoped would be a consistent, tough policy. The problem has led to startling divergences of fate for illegal immigrants in the hands of the Border Patrol.
Mauricio Peña and Floridalma Escalante Marroquín said they had made much of the long, hard journey through Mexico toward the United States together. Mr. Peña had hoped to find work in Houston. Ms. Escalante had hoped to reunite with a sister in Los Angeles. In January, they were caught heading into Texas. They figured they would be sent home.
But Mr. Peña, 19, is from Honduras. Ms. Escalante, 35, is from El Salvador. He was shipped to a detention center to be processed for deportation. Ms. Escalante was released to the streets, free to find her way in the United States.