A report issued by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that immigration crime continued to take up more time on the federal criminal docket during the 2010 fiscal year. Mark Motivans, Federal Justice Statistics, 2010 (Dec. 2013). Law enforcement actions targeting immigration crimes have driven up arrests and investigations of federal crimes, while also affecting the daily work of federal criminal courts.
Immigration crime was the most common category of federal crime for which suspects were arrested and booked by the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), the federal agency responsible for taking a criminal suspect into custody. According to the report, 46.1% of all people arrested and booked by the USMS in FY 2010 were suspected of having committed an immigration crime. This is a jump from FY 2006 when 32.8% of suspects met this fate for this reason. Id. at 3 tbl.2. Indeed, “[i]mmigration offenses increased by an average of 16% from 2006 to 2010, making it the fastest growing offense among suspects arrested and booked by the U.S. Marshals Service. Immigration arrests doubled from 1994 to 1998. Immigration arrests nearly doubled from 1998 to 2004, and doubled from 2004 to 2008.” Id. at 4.
Most of these individuals were taken into USMS custody in the judicial districts along the United States-México border. The Southern District of Texas, a district that runs from Houston south to the Río Grande Valley, led the way with 103,689 people taken into federal custody due to an immigration crime charge from 2006 and 2010. Id. at 4 map 2.
Not surprisingly, immigration provided the federal courts and U.S. Marshals with plenty of work. “Immigration offenses increased from 2,453 cases filed in 1994 to 29,016 in 2010.” Id. at 17. Similarly, DHS’s Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement divisions accounted for 53.5% of all suspects arrested and booked by the USMS in FY 2010. Id. at 7 tbl.3.
DHS also kept U.S. attorneys, the nation’s federal prosecutors, busy. After having provided U.S. attorneys with 35.8% of their suspects in 2006, DHS accounted for 53.8% in FY 2010. Id. at 12 tbl.5. Given DHS’s role in funneling cases into the federal courts, it is again not surprising that immigration crimes accounted for a large percentage of the cases that U.S. attorneys concluded in FY 2010—an impressive 44.6% up from 25.9% in FY 2006. Id. at 12 tbl.6. This was the fastest growth rate of any type of federal crime. Id. at 12.
In all but a tiny fraction of matters, U.S. attorneys chose to move forward with a criminal prosecution when it involved an immigration crime. Although U.S. attorneys declined to prosecuted 15.8% of all matters investigated (called the “declination” rate), in FY 2010 they declined to pursue only 0.9% of instances of alleged immigration crime. The next lowest declination rate is the 16.5% for drug crimes. Id. at 13 tbl.7.
Interestingly enough, immigration crime defendants tend to see the inside of a jail cell more often than other types of federal defendants while their cases are pending. While 76.1% of all federal defendants were detained prior to case termination in FY 2010, 87.5% of immigration crime defendants were confined. The next highest detention rate was for individuals accused of violent offenses—86.1% of those defendants were detained pending case termination. Id. at 16 tbl.9.
Once the government chose to prosecute an immigration crime it was almost assured a conviction. A whopping 97.2% of immigration cases prosecuted in the federal district courts resulted in a conviction. This is a significant bump from the already remarkable 91.3% conviction rate for all offenses. Id. at 19 tbl.11.
Upon conviction, individuals convicted of an immigration crime tend to see less prison time than other federal defendants. While federal defendants were sentenced to a median prison term of 31 months for all offenses and 34 months for federal felonies in FY 2010, immigration crime felony defendants received a median term of 15 months. No other category of federal felony reported a lower median prison term in FY 2010. The median prison term for federal misdemeanors of all types was 3 months. Id. at 22 tbl.13.
Even though their prison terms come in well below other crimes, “[i]mmigration offenders comprised 12% of the prison population in 2010, rising slightly from…11% of the prison population in 2001.” Id. at 23.
I don’t see any reason to think that these upward trends will change anytime soon.