The federal criminal justice system is squarely focused on immigration activity. In the 2016 fiscal year, 68,314 defendants were prosecuted in federal courts for federal immigration crimes, the administrative office that helps operate the federal courts reported this month. This represents forty-three percent of all people prosecuted for federal crimes that year. Two crimes made up the bulk of federal immigration crime prosecutions. Illegal entry, a misdemeanor, and its felony counterpart, illegal reentry.
No other category of federal crime came near immigration to receive top billing among the nation’s most-prosecuted offenses. Runner-up illicit drug activity offenses were prosecuted just shy of 24,000 times in the twelve months ending on September 30, 2016.
Immigration crime’s frequent appearance in federal courts hints at a substantial resource allocation. In recent years, immigration crime defendants have been more likely to be detained pending criminal prosecutions than any other type of federal defendant. Not surprisingly, the population of immigration crime defendants taken into the custody of the United States Marshals Service, the agency responsible for all federal pretrial detention, is now immense. In fiscal year 2013, the latest year for which data are publicly available, the USMS took into its custody 97,982 people suspected of having committed an immigration crime.
Most of these people are eventually convicted. Of the 20,352 immigration crime defendants prosecuted before federal district judges (as opposed to the 47,962 prosecuted before federal magistrate judges) in FY 2016, all but 528 were convicted. This represents a ninety-seven percent conviction rate. To be sure, the overall conviction rate for federal prosecutions before district judges is high—approximately ninety percent. This is no way diminishes the impact that immigration crime prosecutions have on federal resource expenditures. To punish so many people convicted of an immigration crime, the federal Bureau of Prisons imprisons approximately 20,000 immigration offenders every day.