ICE Referred Criminal Prosecutions Down 41 Percent Over Last Five Years
The latest available data from the Justice Department show that criminal prosecutions resulting from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) referrals to federal prosecutors have continued their decline. In December 2016 a total of 878 ICE prosecutions were recorded. This is down from 938 in December 2015 and 966 in December 2014.
During all of FY 2016 the government reported 12,761 new prosecutions for these matters according to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. This number is down 8.1% from FY 2015 when the number of prosecutions totaled 13,881. See Table 1.
These figures do not include the much larger number of criminal prosecutions from referrals made by two other immigration components of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Prosecutions where federal prosecutions credited ICE as the lead investigative agency peaked during FY 2011 and have fallen since then. At their peak five years ago there were 21,662 ICE prosecutions recorded. Thus, FY 2016 numbers are down 41.1 percent since FY 2011, and are even lower than they were ten years ago in FY 2006. Overall, the data show that prosecutions resulting from ICE criminal referrals are down 5.3 percent from the level of 13,481 reported in 2006.
The long term trend in prosecutions over the past ten year is shown more clearly in Figure 1. The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent the number of prosecutions of this type recorded each fiscal year. The comparisons of the number of defendants charged with offenses are based on case-by-case information obtained by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys.
Types of Offenses
The majority of ICE referred prosecutions deal with immigration offenses. During FY 2016, for example, immigration matters accounted for 53.2 percent of these prosecutions. These were largely prosecutions for illegal re-entry (8 USC 1326) and illegally smuggling people into this country and/or illegally harboring them (8 USC 1324).
The second most frequent general category of cases were prosecutions filed under the narcotics and illegal drugs program. This program area accounted for 30.6 percent of all prosecutions last year. See Figure 2.
A diverse group of programs make up the remainder. Federal prosecutors classified 477 under its special "Project Safe Childhood," which targets offenses involving child sexual exploitation. Weapons accounted for roughly 3 percent or 260 prosecutions, while an additional 119 prosecutions were classified as violent crimes. Federal prosecutors classified another 224 as white-collar offenses.
Another 174 ICE prosecutions were categorized as regulatory matters. A small number involved civil rights (16), official corruption (10), organized crime (4), and the environment (3).
Only one case during all of FY 2016 was classified as related to international terrorism. Here the lead charge involved smuggling goods from the United States. An additional four were classified as violations of export and import controls, including three involving control of arms exports and imports.
[The Department of Justice is withholding the program area for 4.6 percent of the cases. TRAC, in ongoing litigation, has challenged the government's withholding of program category information, winning a substantial victory in a September 2006 decision. Release of this information is being held up while the case is still pending on appeal in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.]
Where Do These Offenses Occur?
Criminal enforcement involving immigration and customs matters is lodged in a major division called Homeland Security Investigations. This is one of three directorates within ICE. In contrast, Customs and Border Protection, its sister agency within Homeland Security, employs very few criminal investigators.
The lion's share of criminal prosecutions of ICE-referred investigations occur, not surprisingly, in the five federal judicial districts along the southwest border.
In terms of sheer numbers, among these five, the Southern District of Texas (Houston) had the highest number of prosecutions, followed by Arizona and the Western District of Texas (San Antonio).
Relative to its population, however, the Southern District of California (San Diego) had the higher per capita rate of ICE prosecutions. In second place was Arizona, followed by the Western District of Texas in third. On a per capita basis, the Southern District of Texas was in fourth place, followed by New Mexico. See Table 2.
Relative to their population size, other top ranked districts after these five border districts hold some surprises. During FY 2016, for example, Utah was in sixth place and the Northern District of Iowa (Cedar Rapids) noised out the Southern District of Florida (Miami) for seventh place. Wyoming was close behind in eighth place, although it fell to twelfth place during the first three months of FY 2017, placing after South Dakota, the Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans) and the Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).
The number of prosecutions resulting from ICE referrals, along with their per capita rates, are shown in Table 2. This table includes the figures for all 90 federal judicial districts.
TRAC offers free monthly reports on program categories such as white collar crime, immigration, drugs, weapons and terrorism and on selected government agencies such as the IRS, FBI, ATF and DHS. For the latest information on prosecutions and convictions, go to http://trac.syr.edu/tracreports/bulletins/. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports for a specific agency, judicial district, program category, lead charge or judge via the TRAC Data Interpreter.