Immigration Offenses Made Up Half Of All Federal Arrests In 2012

CREDIT: AP Photo / Jae C. Hong

An Orange County Sheriff's deputy keeps a watch over a group of immigration detainees.

Arizona Smuggling Law

CREDIT: Ross D. Franklin/ AP

Immigration offenses made up half of all federal arrests in 2012, the latest Department of Justice analysis revealed. Out of a total 172,248 suspects arrested for a federal offense, 85,458, or 49.6 percent, were booked and arrested for immigration offenses.

Immigration offenses include illegal entry, illegal reentry, alien smuggling, and visa fraud. The number of suspects arrested and booked for immigration offenses by U.S. Marshal Services, the primary law enforcement body tasked with booking and processing federal suspects in custody, went up an average of two percent annually between 2010 and 2012.

In 2012, more than 60 percent of all federal arrests came from immigration offenses committed in five judicial districts along the U.S.- Mexico border, encompassing California Southern, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas Western, and Texas Southern. About one-third of those arrests came from Arizona and the Southern District of Texas.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 97 percent of immigration violation defendants adjudicated in an U.S. district court were convicted. Out of 92,345 cases involving immigration violations concluded in 2012, U.S. magistrates disposed 71.1 percent of cases. Only 28.1 percent of defendants were filed with charges and prosecuted in U.S. district courts. As the BJS report explained, cases were disposed quickly in part because an “increase in immigration enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border was accompanied by a strategy to expedite case processing by charging first-time illegal entrants with a petty misdemeanor offense,” an ICE priority that warrants the apprehension, detention, and removal of immigrants.

2008 marked the start of Secure Communities, a federal immigration enforcement program mobilized counties to work with local immigration enforcement to share all arrested immigrants’ fingerprints with the Department of Homeland Security, regardless of the nature of the offense or whether that immigrant was ultimately convicted. DHS can then issue a detainer asking local enforcement officials to hold the immigrant until federal officials can take them into custody. Those immigrants could then be placed in deportation proceedings. The intention of the program is to prioritize individuals charged with serious crimes, but in practice, immigrants who have committed minor offenses are swept up in the deportation pipeline. Many minor offenses, like not having a valid driver’s license, are often unavoidable for undocumented immigrants, who up to 2014 were unable to get driver’s licenses in major states like California.

Newer data provided by Syracuse’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) found that immigration arrests steadily increased in 2013 and 2014, with illegal entry and illegal reentry leading the top two charges filed for prosecutions.

The BJS report comes amidst President Obama’s latest pitch to prosecute and deport “felons, not families” through his executive action, with his administration set to protect upwards of five million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Obama’s executive action could potentially blunt the number of immigration-related arrests going forward, especially since two-thirds of the country’s population live within the 100-mile boundary surrounding the nation’s exterior “border zone.” Immigrants living in the “border zone” are theoretically provided an immigration hearing, but the Obama administration has increasingly deported people in the “border zone” through a process known as “expedited removal.” Those caught up in expedited removal could include immigrants who have lived in the country for years. As of 2012, 62 percent of undocumented immigrants have lived in the country for more than a decade, the Pew Research Center found.