Few Immigration Criminal Prosecutions, While Non-Immigration Prosecutions Rebound
Federal criminal prosecutions nationally have largely returned to the pace that prevailed before the pandemic hit and federal offices closed in mid-March across the country. This is true except for prosecutions for immigration offenses which have not returned to their pre-pandemic levels. See Figure 1. (See Table 1 at the end of the report for month-by-month prosecution counts.)
Figure 1. Federal Immigration vs. Non-Immigration Prosecutions by Month
(Click for larger image)
Two federal agencies within the Department of Homeland Security—Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—are the source of most immigration criminal referrals. As shown in Figure 2A, federal prosecutors continue to receive few referrals from CBP. CBP is largely responsible for arresting immigrants for illegal entry and illegal reentry along the country's border with Mexico and historically has accounted for the most immigration prosecutions. With the pandemic, the Trump Administration has instituted a policy to quickly deport individuals attempting to enter the country illegally in place of detaining them and referring them for criminal prosecution. The decline in immigration referrals from CBP to federal prosecutors, therefore, appears to be driven at least partially by a policy change within the administration that prioritizes deportation over prosecution. As we also see in Figure 2B, thus far criminal referrals from interior enforcement by ICE officials have recovered much—but not all—of the ground they lost during the early months of the pandemic.
from Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement,
October 2019 - August 2020
Non-immigration criminal prosecution levels have largely recovered in most U.S. Attorney offices across the country. These findings are based on analyses of case-by-case Department of Justice records, updated through August 2020, obtained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University after litigation under the Freedom of Information Act. Once immigration prosecutions are set aside, the volume of federal prosecutions filed in the vast majority of U.S. Attorney offices across the country are now occurring at rates similar to those before the pandemic hit and the closure in mid-March of federal offices.
However, not every location has recovered. Prosecution levels, for example, have not fully rebounded in the Southern District of New York (Manhattan). See Figure 3A. Nor in the Southern District of Florida. See Figure 3B. The Southern District of Texas (Houston) and the Northern District of California (San Francisco) have also not fully rebounded. But while these districts are home to large metropolitan areas, other big-city districts such as the Northern District of Illinois (Chicago) have largely recovered. Further, federal prosecutions in districts in more rural parts of the country such as Maine and Vermont have also been slow to rebound. Out of the ninety federal judicial districts in the U.S., prosecution levels are still below pre-pandemic levels in 14 out of 90. These districts are highlighted in Table 2 below. An additional 6 have prosecution levels that are somewhat below their prior typical levels.
in New York South and Florida South Judicial Districts,
August 2019 - August 2020
Month-by-month counts of criminal prosecutions (excluding those for immigration offenses) for each U.S. Attorney office are shown below in Table 2. Also shown is the monthly average for the period before the pandemic (August 2019 - February 2020) which can be compared with the monthly filing pattern post-pandemic. Highlighted are offices where none of the months since the federal offices were closed because of COVID-19 have rebounded to the average level that prevailed during the pre-pandemic period.
 See earlier TRAC reports covering criminal referrals and prosecutions through March 2020, April 2020 and June 2020 covering earlier criminal prosecution trends by these and other federal agencies who served as the the lead investigative agencies.
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 https://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.