Wichita — His hopes for immigration reform shattered, one of Kansas' highest profile Hispanic activists plans to return to Mexico to join his wife and their daughter.
"I've given up," said Dennis Romero, a convicted human smuggler and co-chairman of the Peoples Alliance for Latino Advancement in Kansas. "As soon as I am off parole, I am going to go back to Mexico."
Without amnesty, Romero said he expects raids on illegal immigrants to intensify.
Increased criminal enforcement of immigration laws has reached into Midwestern states far from border areas since the 2001 terrorist attacks. In recent years, the number of immigration cases prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Kansas has tripled.
But with an estimated 12 million immigrants illegally in the United States, federal courts can do little except try to prosecute the most egregious cases such as human smuggling, identity theft, drug smuggling, workplace enforcement, and repeat immigration offenders.
"There is more triage in this job than I anticipated going into it," said Eric Melgren, U.S. Attorney for Kansas.
Melgren declined to wade in on the national immigration debate, but he said it is unlikely legislation will solve all the nation's immigration problems.
"Law enforcement has been fighting murder since Cain killed Abel," Melgren said. "We haven't stamped out murder."
Statistics for the U.S. Attorney's office in Wichita showed the number of immigration cases climbed from 50 in the 2002 fiscal year to 161 in 2006.
Two of 28 prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney's office primarily handle the immigration cases, he said. Immigration cases now account for 15 percent of federal prosecutions in Kansas, but since most defendants plead guilty to lesser charges those cases account for just between 5 and 8 percent of his prosecutor hours.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the national climate has changed regarding border security and increased prosecution.
"I think we are doing a good job with matters presented to us ... but even tripling the number of cases we do, it is still a problem," Melgren said.
With the collapse of immigration reform, Romero said it is time Mexicans concentrate on making Mexico a livable country - supporting President Felipe Calderon's social programs and eliminating government corruption.
"Be proud to say, 'I am a Mexican. I live in Mexico,"' Romero said.
Wichita-born Romero served nearly two years in prison after being caught in 2005 helping his Mexican wife and others come into this country when they were stranded in the desert by the coyote they had hired. It was his second conviction for human smuggling.
"I love my family," Romero said. "To most Hispanics the family is number one."
Romero said he tried unsuccessfully to get legal residency for his Mexican wife, Irma. But he could not sponsor her residency in this country because of his 1985 conviction for human smuggling, among other immigration restrictions he couldn't meet.
He was caught near the border. He had gone down to rescue his wife after receiving a frantic call from her telling him she had spent two days wandering in the desert and couldn't stand it anymore.
Since their capture, Romero has not seen his wife in three years, nor has he seen recently his 16-year-old daughter and her newborn baby who is also in Mexico. The couple met and married in Mexico, but lived in the United States seven years.
Their troubles began when his wife returned to Mexico to attend her father's funeral, then got caught trying to get back into the United States. She consented to voluntary deportation, and he went to prison.
It will be 2009 before his parole ends.