Surge in Immigration Prosecutions Continues
Table 1: Criminal Immigration Prosecutions
Federal immigration prosecutions in March 2008 continued their recent and highly unusual surge, apparently reaching an all-time high, according to timely data from the Justice Department. The total of 9,350 such prosecutions was up by almost 50% from the previous month and 73% from the previous year.
The dramatic changes in the number of defendants charged with immigration-related charges are based on case-by-case information obtained by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act from the Executive Office for United states Attorneys (see Table 1).
The spurt in the prosecutions of individuals charged with various immigration crimes is the result of "Operation Streamline." Under this recently intensified administration policy, according to news reports and interviews with federal public defenders, the government has charged a rapidly growing number of undocumented aliens with various federal criminal charges in selected districts along the Mexican border. "Operation Streamline" began as a pilot project in December 2005 in Del Rio, Texas.
Figure 1: Criminal Immigration Prosecutions Since January 2001
The sudden increase in cases is almost entirely confined to federal districts along the southwest border. At the national level, in January, there were a total of 3,848 immigration prosecutions. This means that in March such filings were nearly two and a half times what they were in in January, a net increase of 5,502 cases. See Figure 1. (Note that the vertical bars in the figure represent the number of immigration prosecutions recorded on a month-to-month basis. The superimposed line on the bars plots the six-month moving average so
that natural fluctuations are smoothed out. The one and five-year rates of change in Table 1 and in the sections that follow are all based upon this six-month moving average.)
The five districts along the Mexican border accounted for all but 142 of these cases. For example, as shown in Figure 2, the Western District of Texas (San Antonio) showed more than a five-fold increase jumping from 626 prosecutions in January to 3,555 recorded last March. Compared with last October, the March counts showed a ten a ten-fold increase. By comparison, Arizona showed a three-fold jump from levels of last October, going from 631 to 1,808 prosecutions in the six-month period. Similarly, the Southern District of California based in San Diego (790 prosecutions in March of 2008) and the district of New Mexico (707 prosecutions in March of 2008) were sharply higher.
Figure 2: Texas West Criminal Immigration Prosecutions Since January 2001
The Southern District of Texas (Houston), with 1,669 prosecutions in March, also showed an increase in these filing during the past few months. But examined over a longer period the data showed several prosecution peaks followed by declines and then the spurt in the recent past (see Figure 3). An earlier TRAC report addressed the increased immigration enforcment activity in this district in FY 2004.
Figure 3: Texas South Criminal Immigration Prosecutions Since January 2001
The data further show that virtually all individuals referred to the U.S. Attorneys offices for immigration offenses — 99% of them — are being prosecuted, and that the resulting median or typical sentence is short: just one month. Along the southwest border, the median sentence for all immigration convictions varied between a high of 2 months in the Southern District of California (San Diego), to 1 month in Arizona and New Mexico, to 0 months in both the Southern and Western Districts of Texas.
The substantial growth in
these cases is partly related to increases in the matters filed in U.S. Magistrate Courts. If magistrate cases
are excluded and only Federal District Court cases are counted, the overall increase in
immigration prosecutions since March 2003 is 18.2 percent instead of 193.1 percent.
Virtually all federal criminal prosecutions for immigration offenses in March 2008 (99 percent) were referred by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The State Department, the Defense Department, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives within the Justice Department were the next three agencies with the largest number of prosecution referrals. Most of these cases — 87 percent — originated with DHS's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) whose border patrol agencies guard the county's borders. The remaining 12 percent were referred by DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which has jurisdiction for conducting immigration criminal investigations.
Immigration Prosecutions in U.S. Magistrate Courts
Top Ranked Lead Charges
In March 2008, 78 percent of immigration cases for these matters took place in U.S. Magistrate Courts which handle less serious
misdemeanor cases, including what are called "petty offenses."
In the magistrate courts in March the most frequently cited lead charge was
Title 8 U.S.C Section 1325 involving the "Entry of alien at improper time or place; etc.". This was the lead charge
for 75.2 percent of all magistrate filings in March.
The next most frequently prosecuted lead charge was "8 USC 1326 - Reentry of deported alien" (19.1%).
Immigration Prosecutions in U.S. District Courts
Top Ranked Lead Charges
Table 2 shows the top lead charges recorded in the prosecutions of immigration matters
filed in U.S. District Court during March 2008.
Table 2: Top charges filed
"Reentry of deported alien" (Title 8 U.S.C Section 1326) was the most frequent recorded lead charge.
"Reentry of deported alien" (Title 8 U.S.C Section 1326) was ranked 1 a year ago, while it was the 1 most frequently invoked 5 years ago..
Ranked 2nd in frequency was the lead charge "Bringing in and harboring certain aliens" under Title 8 U.S.C Section 1324.
"Bringing in and harboring certain aliens" under Title 8 U.S.C Section 1324 was ranked 2 a year ago, while it was the 2 most frequently invoked 5 years ago..
Ranked 3rd was "Entry of alien at improper time or place; etc." under Title 8 U.S.C Section 1325.
"Entry of alien at improper time or place; etc." under Title 8 U.S.C Section 1325 was ranked 3 a year ago, while it was the 3 most frequently invoked 5 years ago..
Among these top ten lead charges, the one showing the greatest
increase in prosecutions—up 96.2 percent—compared to one year ago was Title 18 U.S.C Section 371
that involves " Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud US
Compared to five years ago, the largest increase—74.4 percent—was registered for
prosecutions under " Fraud and related activity - id documents
" (Title 18 U.S.C Section 1028 ).
Again among the top ten lead charges, the one showing the sharpest
decline in prosecutions compared to one year ago—down 31.4 percent—was
False personification - Citizen of the US
(Title 18 U.S.C Section 911 ).
Compared to five years ago, the most significant decline in prosecutions— 59.5 percent—was
for filings where the lead charge was " Fraud/false statements or entries generally
" (Title 18 U.S.C Section 1001
Top Ranked Judicial Districts
Understandably, there is great variation in the number of immigration prosecutions that are filed in each of the nation's ninety-four federal judicial districts.
As discussed above, most immigration prosecutions were filed in U.S. Magistrate Courts. However, even we exclude magistrate cases and focus just on immigration prosecutions filed in the U.S. District Courts — which typically handle the more serious felony cases — we see that the five federal judicial districts along the Southwest border again dominate. See Table 3.
Table 3: Top 10 districts
The Southern District of Texas (Houston)—with 488 prosecutions—was the most active during March 2008.
The Southern District of Texas (Houston) was ranked 1 a year ago, while it was ranked 1 five years ago.
The Western District of Texas (San Antonio) ranked 2nd.
The Western District of Texas (San Antonio) was ranked 3 a year ago, while it was ranked 4 five years ago.
Southern District of California (San Diego) is now ranking 3rd.
The Southern District of California (San Diego) was ranked 4 a year ago, while it was ranked 2 five years ago.
A recent entry to the top 10 list was
Middle District of Pennsylvania (Scranton), now ranked
This district ranked 61st
one year ago and 80th five years ago.
The federal judicial district which showed the greatest growth
in immigration prosecutions compared to one year ago— 441.7 percent—was
Middle District of Pennsylvania (Scranton).
This was the same district that had the largest increase— 3150 %—when compared with five years ago.
In the last year, the judicial District Court recording the
largest drop in immigration prosecutions— 21.3 percent—was
This was the same district that had the largest increase— 28.8 %—when compared with five years ago.
Top Ranked District Judges
At any one time, there are about 680 federal District Court judges working in the United States. The judges recorded with the largest number of new immigration crime cases of this type during March 2008 are shown in Table 4.
All 10 of the "top ten" judges were in districts which were in the top ten with the largest number of immigration filings .
Judge Robert C. Brack in the District of New Mexico ranked 1st with 115 defendants in immigration cases.
Judge Brackalso appeared in the top ten rankings one year ago(ranked 1).
Judge George P. Kazen in the Southern District of Texas (Houston) ranked 2nd with 69 defendants in immigration cases.
Judge Kazen appeared in the top ten rankings one year (ranked 3) and five years ago (rank 7).
Judge Micaela Alvarez in the Southern District of Texas (Houston) ranked 3rd with 66 defendants in immigration cases.
Judge Alvarezalso appeared in the top ten rankings one year ago(ranked 2).
Report Date: June 17, 2008