INS at Work
Recent Trends in INS Enforcement

A natural result of hiring more cops is more arrests. So the sharp surge during the last few years in federal immigration enforcement activities is hardly surprising.

With the blessing of the Clinton Administration, the Bush Administration and Congress, the nation's basic immigration policy has been substantially altered in several important ways. Immigration and Naturalization Service staffing has increased dramatically in the last few years: just under 32,000 in 2001, compared with 17,360 a decade ago. At the same time certain laws were toughened which has contributed to much harsher sentencing of convicted individuals.

Here are some of the results:

       The expulsions of illegal aliens have gone up more than four times according to the INS, jumping to 176,746 in FY 2001 compared with 42,471 in 1993. Partly because of natural reporting delays, the expulsion trends for the first months of FY 2002 are not clear.

       INS referrals for prosecutions increased at a slower, but still impressive pace. There were 17,933 such referrals in FY 2001, 8,840 in 1992.

       The median sentence for individuals convicted as a result of an INS investigation has undergone a seven-fold increase, 15 months in 2001, two months in 1992. (A median sentence means that half of the defendants got more time, half got less.)

Whether all these enforcement activities are actually achieving the agency's multiple goals remains unclear. A report by the General Accounting Office, "Illegal Immigration: Status of Southwest Border Strategy Implementation," spoke to this issue. The report said there were some tentative indications that attempted entries had shifted from the San Diego area to other sections of the border and that fees charged by smugglers were somewhat higher. The report added, however, that there were no data on whether the program had decreased the number of attempted reentries into the United States by illegal aliens or reduced crime in the border area.

The sharp jump in INS criminal enforcement actions has had an important impact on the federal criminal justice system. The surge in INS activities, for example, was the major contributor to the increase in the overall number of federal prosecutions—which went to 90,832 in FY 2001 from 76,818 in 1992.

During this period, prosecutions brought as a result of the investigations of the other major agencies stayed approximately the same or declined. Here are the numbers. Prosecutions credited to the INS were 16,541 in 2001, 7,335 in 1992. For the FBI, the annual number of prosecutions remained almost unchanged during the decade, 18,994 in 2001 and 18,090 in 1992. Prosecutions by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also were relatively steady, 6,019 in 2002, 6,187 in 1992. While prosecutions credited to the DEA increased—16,221 from 14,338—there was a major decline at the IRS. There, criminal prosecutions were 1,259 in 2001 compared with 2,742 in 1992.

One result of these various shifts is that in the last there years the INS has moved up to first place in terms of the generation of federal convictions, topping the long-term leader, the FBI. In 2001, for example, INS convictions made up 20.5 % of all federal convictions. This compares with 19.3% for the FBI, 17.8% for the DEA, 9.7% for the Customs Service, 6.2% for ATF and 1.6% for the IRS. In 1992, INS convictions only made up 12.% of the total, considerably less than the 21.% achieved by the FBI, that year's leader.


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