It would seem that the Obama administration has chosen to mimic its predecessor in its zeal to pursue the criminal prosecution of unauthorized immigrants for minor, nonviolent offenses such as crossing the border. As the Associated Press reported recently, “federal prosecutions of immigrants soared to new levels this spring, as the Obama administration continued an aggressive enforcement strategy championed under President George W. Bush.” However, the IPC has noted that this “dramatic increase in criminal prosecutions can be traced in large part to Operation Streamline, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program which mandates federal criminal prosecution and subsequent imprisonment of all persons caught crossing the border unlawfully.” Yet large numbers of these federal immigration prosecutions “have focused on non-violent border crossers.” In other words, DHS under the Obama administration is needlessly clogging the federal courts with people who have not committed any serious crime.

The Associated Press story draws upon data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, which found that “criminal immigration enforcement by the two largest investigative agencies within DHS has increased to levels comparable to the highest seen during the Bush Administration.” Specifically, writes TRAC:

The government reported that during April 2010 there were 7,822 new prosecutions referred by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), following 7,090 prosecutions in March. The total of 14,912 is the highest two-month total since September and October of 2008, when the combined figure was 16,127.

In addition, there were 2,119 new criminal prosecutions referred by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in April 2010, following a March figure of 2,026. The combined two-month total of 4,145 is the highest recorded since the creation of the agency in 2005. This surpasses previous highs of 3,777 in July and August of 2008 and 3,787 in July and August of 2009.

As the IPC noted following the release of similar TRAC data in February, “the prioritization of immigration has made it difficult for law enforcement agents to pursue other more serious crimes.” In fact, the Associated Press rightly points out that this “heavy focus on immigration investigations already is creating a heavy burden for the swamped courts along the U.S.-Mexico border, whose judges handle hundreds more cases than most of their counterparts in the rest of the country.” This is a pointless waste of law-enforcement and criminal-justice resources that would not be taking place if the Obama administration and Congress had the political courage to pursue comprehensive immigration reform rather than the failed enforcement-only policies of decades past.

Photo by Beverly & Pack