Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Report: Rise in unlawful reentry prosecutions drives increase in federal criminal convictions

U.S. Border Patrol agents arrest migrants in 2007 after they illegally crossed into Nogales, Ariz. A program called Operation Streamline puts people caught crossing illegally along parts of the southern border in federal court, giving them criminal records. A new Pew Research report points out how Operation Streamline has driven a rise in federal convictions as more people are prosecuted for unlawful entry into the U.S.
U.S. Border Patrol agents arrest migrants in 2007 after they illegally crossed into Nogales, Ariz. A program called Operation Streamline puts people caught crossing illegally along parts of the southern border in federal court, giving them criminal records. A new Pew Research report points out how Operation Streamline has driven a rise in federal convictions as more people are prosecuted for unlawful entry into the U.S. Ted Robbins/NPR

A new Pew Research Center report finds a sharp rise in the number of immigrants being charged with unlawful entry, leading to an increase in federal immigration crimes and changing the ethnic composition of federal offenders.

Over two decades, between 1992 and 2012, the number of people sentenced in federal courts more than doubled, according to the report, chiefly driven by federal policies that have pushed prosecution for people who enter the U.S. illegally. From the report:

At the same time, the number of unlawful reentry convictions increased 28- fold, from 690 cases in 1992 to 19,463 in 2012. The increase in unlawful reentry convictions alone accounts for nearly half (48%) of the growth in the total number of offenders sentenced in federal courts over the period. By contrast, the second fastest growing type of conviction—for drug offenses— accounted for 22% of the growth.

The report pinpoints a particular policy behind this rise in recent years: Operation Streamline, a program implemented in 2005 in five U.S. Border Patrol sectors along the southern border. Operation Streamline allows for rapid prosecutions of illegal border crossers, often with several people prosecuted at once. According to the report, Operation Streamline accounted for 45 percent of all federal immigration-related prosecutions in Southwest border courts between 2005 and 2012.

In 2012, unlawful reentry cases accounted for 26 percent of sentenced federal offenders; this category made up just 2 percent of sentenced federal offenders in 1992.

The result: With the bulk of unauthorized migrants coming from Latin America - 92 percent of unlawful entry offenders in 2012 were Latino - it has changed the racial and ethnic composition of federal offenders. From the report:

In 1992, Latinos made up 23% of sentenced offenders; by 2012, that share had grown to 48%. Over the same period, the share of offenders who did not hold U.S. citizenship increased from 22% to 46%. Among federal sentenced offenders in 1992, 12% were unauthorized immigrants. By 2012, that share had increased to 40%.

Another result is that federal immigration offenses are now nearly on par with drug offenses in the federal courts:

Immigration offenses made up 30% of offenses in 2012, a 26 percentage point increase over 1992. In 2012, drug convictions also accounted for 33% of offenses, down 12 percentage points since 1992.

The entire report can be read here.

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