Report details expanding fed immigration prosecutions

A new Justice Department report provides fascinating details about the federal prosecution of immigration activities. Mark Motivans, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Federal Justice Statistics Program: Immigration Offenders in the Federal Justice System, 2010 (July 2012). The report was authored by a Justice Department statistician using data from a host of government agencies.

It will come as no surprise to readers that the report found that federal criminal prosecutions of immigration-related activities have soared in recent years. The roughly 52,000 federal criminal arrests in 2007 quickly jumped to about 78,000 in 2008 before peaking at 84,749 in 2009 and dropping slightly to 82,438 in 2010. Motivans at 7 fig.1.

The bulk of these prosecutions (90% in 2010) are lodged in Southwestern federal courts. Indeed, the immigration criminal prosecutions sitting in federal courts in the Southwestern judicial districts in 2010 involved 56% of all federal suspects arrested and booked in the United States that year. Motivans at 8. Even I’m astonished this figure.

Of these, two-thirds were charged with illegal entry, INA § 275 (a federal misdemeanor), and, upon conviction, sentenced by a magistrate to up to 180 days in jail. The remaining one-third of immigration suspects were prosecuted in federal district courts. Seventy-eight percent of people charged with an immigration crime in district court were charged with illegal reentry, INA § 276 (a federal felony). Motivans at 8. Also interesting was that 97% of people charged with a federal immigration crime were convicted and almost all of those convictions resulted from a plea. Motivans at 9.

These prosecutions occupy a significant percentage of the federal government’s law enforcement focus. In 2010, 46% of suspects booked by the U.S. Marshals were accused of immigration offenses, 44% of matters referred to U.S. attorneys’ offices involved immigration matters, and 29% of people admitted into the Federal Bureau of Prisons system had been convicted of an immigration crime. Motivans at 10, 15.

There is a lot more very interesting data presented in the report, all of which deserves attention. Rather than rehash it all here, though, I’ll simply say that it points to a remarkable trend we’ve seen in recent years: more resources devoted to policing immigration law, more reliance on the immigration provisions of the federal penal code, and more removals in immigration courts. In other words, the immigration law enforcement apparatus is becoming increasingly aggressive and ever larger.

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