DOJ announces spike in prosecution of immigration-related offenses, highest on record

The Justice Department announced Friday that it prosecuted the highest number ever of immigration-related offenses in fiscal year 2019 -- overturning what had been a trend of decline in recent years on a number of metrics.

According to figures released by the department, U.S. attorneys’ offices charged a record-breaking 25,426 people with felony illegal re-entry in fiscal year 2019, up from 23,425 in 2018 and 16,965 in fiscal year 2017. That number had been declining steadily between 2012 and 2017.

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The largest spike was in prosecutions for misdemeanor improper entry, where there was an 18.1 percent increase to 80,886 prosecutions this year. That was up from just 36,649 in fiscal year 2017. Prosecutions there had also been declining for some years, from a high in 2013.

Meanwhile, 4,297 people were charged with "alien smuggling," up from 3,724 in fiscal year 2018 and 3,310 in fiscal year 2017. That number has been slowly increasing from 2014, where just 2,762 people were charged with alien smuggling.

“These record-breaking numbers are a testament to the dedication of our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices throughout the nation, especially our Southwest border offices,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in a statement. “In addition to the usual workload of each case the Department prosecutes, this effort was made possible after our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices restored essential partnerships with national, state and local law enforcement partners.”

The numbers come as the administration has been pushing to crack down on illegal immigration, particularly looking to give immigration enforcement more tools and powers, while cutting down on perceived loopholes in the system.

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On the legal front, it has sought to change immigration practices and laws, setting up agreements with Mexico to return migrants there while they await their hearings via the Migrant Protection Protocols, and also ending the 1997 Flores settlement that limits how long children can be detained.

The administration has long claimed that Flores encourages human smuggling, as adult migrants take children with them in the hopes of being released into the interior of the United States. Flores is one of a number of “pull factors” that the administration has sought to end -- although that move has been blocked by a legal challenge.

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Leaders of immigration enforcement agencies have also pushed back against “sanctuary cities” -- jurisdictions that refuse to comply with detainers from immigration enforcement authorities.

The DOJ’s announcement comes a week after its Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) announced that it completed 275,000 cases this fiscal year, the second-highest number (behind fiscal year 2018) in its history. Those numbers are nearly double the number of cases completed in fiscal year 2016.