Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Coming Immigration Detention Boom

If the war on illegal immigration hasn't already become a more expensive government boondoggle than the war on drugs, I bet it soon will. Projecting into the future, the incarceration needs for potential immigration violations, given current and proposed policies, could be limitless.

Already, one third of federal prosecutions in the United States are for immigration violations - more, even, than drug crimes. "The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recommended the prosecution of 65% more immigration cases in FY 2004 than it did in the previous year," according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, and that number's only increasing.
According to TRAC's data, even before the recent raids immigration agents were taking more cases to court than the the FBI, the DEA and the IRS combined. A huge and growing number of these derive from Texas' Southern District (Houston).

Now Johnny Sutton in Texas' Western District (San Antonio) appears to have climbed on the bandwagon - his office has "filed criminal charges against dozens of undocumented immigrants for crimes that have long been handled with simple deportation," according to the Austin American Statesman ("
Austin seeing change in immigration prosecutions," April 28). "For undocumented immigrants in the Austin area, the chance of being prosecuted remains small, but the shift means they are more likely to face federal prison time or leave the country with a criminal record if they are caught," reported Steven Kreytak.

In the past, smuggled immigrants have not faced criminal charges for their first illegal entry.

Because of limited resources, Sutton said prosecutors will continue to focus on filing federal charges against the most dangerous immigrants.

Without discussing the recent cases, Sutton said that prosecutors will consider charges under the illegal re- entry law when the person is suspected of other illegal activity, has a significant misdemeanor record or was "combative or disruptive at the time of arrest."

Assistant Federal Public Defender Horatio Aldredge said that if prosecutors continue to seek criminal charges against a wider sample of immigrants, the system may not be able to handle them.

"It seems to me," he said, "that it's not a very good allocation of resources."

Hmmmm. If they're "combative or disruptive at the time of arrest," why not charge them with whatever is the federal version of resisting arrest, I wonder? Why turn the immigration case into a criminal charge? One notes that the threshold of being "suspected of other criminal activity" isn't very high, either. And since we're talking about a prosecutor's decision about what charge to file, that suspicion will never be tested with evidence before a judge.

Forget due process concerns for a minute, though. This is bad public policy. Bottom line: Where will it end?
With the jobs of so many prosecutors, border security agents and detention facility personnel on the line, we've created a massive industry that's dependant on the US having a dysfunctional immigration policy. If they ever fixed it - if the number of federal criminal cases dropped by a third overnight and tens of thousands of rented detention beds were no longer needed - many thousands of people would lose their jobs.

We're creating large, powerful constituencies with stakes in a flawed system.
The Border Patrol's staff has grown more than 1,200% in the past three decades, during which time illegal immigration skyrocketed. Meanwhile, immigration detainees are the fastest growing part of the US prison population. The Dallas Morning News in February predicted a detention bed "gold rush" in the short term based on current prosecution trends.

Amazing: All that to prevent willing employers from hiring willing workers.
A rational immigration policy would put most of those folks out of work. We could increase enforcement spending many times over and still not have as big an impact as would simple economic reforms.

Via Bender's Immigration Bulletin

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