Few Immigration Criminal Prosecutions, While Non-Immigration Prosecutions Rebound
(22 Sep 2020) Federal criminal prosecutions nationally have now 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.

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. Federal prosecutors continue to receive few referrals from CBP which is responsible for border enforcement and historically has accounted for 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. In contrast, 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.

Non-immigration criminal prosecution levels have also largely recovered in most U.S. Attorney offices across the country. 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. 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.

However, not every location has recovered. Prosecution levels, for example, have not fully rebounded in the Southern District of New York (Manhattan). Nor in the Southern District of Florida. 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 some districts in more rural parts of the country such as Maine and Vermont have also been slow to rebound.

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