NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 23, 2007

Documents released in the controversy about eight fired U.S. attorneys show that federal prosecutors in Texas generally have declined to bring criminal charges against illegal immigrants caught crossing the border -- until at least their sixth arrest, says the Houston Chronicle.

The documents offer a glimpse into the overburdened federal court and detention systems, which suffer from a lack of resources and bed space to detain and prosecute every illegal entry violator.  Consider:

  • In 2005, the Southern District of Texas was the busiest in the country and sentenced 6,414 defendants, including 4,313 for immigration-related offenses, according to data from the Sentencing Commission included in another memo.
  • The West District of Texas was second, with 5,839 defendants sentenced in 2005, records show.
  • As a result, the Department of Justice is forced to prioritize the most serious offense and repeated offenders, the memo states.

The prosecution guidelines have been a source of frustration for years among the ranks of U.S. Border Patrol agents, said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council.  Smugglers can figure out the criteria by trial and error, he said, and can exploit it to avoid prosecution.

"It's devastating on morale," Bonner said.  "Our agents are risking their lives out there, and then they're told, 'Sorry, that doesn't meet the criteria.' "

Source: Susan Carroll and Michael Hedges, "Illegal immigrants allowed at least five strikes," Houston Chronicle, March 23, 2007; based upon: Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst, "Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time Over Five Decades," National Bureau of Economic Working Paper No. 12082, March 2006.

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