Two recent reports by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a research center out of Syracuse University, confirm that the federal government is prioritizing immigration enforcement over potentially far more dangerous activities, such as gun smuggling.  While prosecutions for illegal re-entry are up in criminal courts, prosecutions for weapons-related offenses are down in the last year. Not surprisingly, this prioritization of immigration prosecutions over dangerous crime has largely gone unnoticed by immigration restrictionists who routinely underscore “violence along the border” as a reason to bolster a border-only agenda.

Prosecution for illegal reentry (a felony offense) is now the most commonly recorded lead charge brought by federal prosecutors, accounting for 47% of all criminal immigration prosecutions filed.  Some of the immigrants charged with reentry were deported after committing a serious crime, while others may have been deported for being in the U.S. without status or another minor offense.

In recent years, the number of persons prosecuted for first-time illegal entry (a petty misdemeanor) has skyrocketed.  Between 2002 and 2008, prosecutions for first time illegal entry in border district courts increased 330%, largely due to the controversial Operation Streamline, a DHS program which mandates federal criminal prosecution and subsequent imprisonment of all persons caught crossing the border unlawfully. This was of concern because more serious crimes, such as trafficking and smuggling, were not prosecuted as frequently.  Furthermore, federal prosecutions for drug- and weapons-related crimes, public corruption, and organized crime have decreased.

Now, prosecutions for illegal reentry surpass prosecutions for entering the United States at an improper time or place.  According to TRAC data, there were 18,552 new prosecutions for illegal reentry during the first six months of FY2011.  If the current pace continues, FY2011 prosecutions for illegal entry would be up 3.5% from FY2010. Together, illegal reentry and illegal entry make up 91% of all immigration criminal prosecutions, meaning that a relatively small number of smugglers, traffickers, employers, and other criminal immigration violators are being prosecuted by the federal government.

At the same time, the number of weapons prosecutions continues to decline.  In the month of January 2011 there were only 484 new weapons prosecutions—the lowest level since January 2001.  Weapons prosecutions are down 7.9% from this time last year, and 28.8% from 2006.

As the data indicates, prosecuting immigration violations—minor and serious—continues to be a bigger priority than prosecuting weapons violations, drug violations, and other serious threats for the federal government. So the question to immigration restrictionists, who continue to emphasis border violence in their drive for more border security, then becomes: Shouldn’t the U.S. focus as many resources on drugs, weapons, and organized crime along the border as they do on illegal entry?

Photo by