Monday, April 19, 2010

Federal Prosecutors Along Southwest Border Overwhelmed by Soaring Drug, Immigration Cases

The indispensable Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse just released an excellent analysis of drug cases in the five federal judicial districts along the southwestern border, finding that federal drug prosecutions by US Attorneys' offices in those jurisdictions increased 30% overall in the last 16 months.

The report includes data from the Southern and Western Districts of Texas, but the big news was out of Arizona, which saw the number of federal drug prosecutions skyrocket by 202%. The next highest increase, though, was in Texas' Southern District (Houston) which saw its number of drug prosecutions increase 53% over the same period. By contrast, despite the widely publicized drug violence in Juarez, drug prosecutions in Texas' Western District declined by 4%. However that's partly because they were already engaged more heavily in drug prosecutions:
The Western District of Texas (San Antonio) tops the border districts in the volume of drug prosecutions throughout the last five years. During the first four months of FY 2010, the pace of these prosecutions increased by 12 percent. However, the pace thus far in FY 2010 is still running slightly below the levels it experienced during FY 2008. The Southern District of Texas (Houston) had the second largest number of federal drug prosecutions during the first four months of FY 2010, right below the numbers in the Western district. The rate at which these prosecutions increased however — up 20 percent over FY 2009 and up 53 percent over FY 2008 — topped the Western district. It thus posted the second highest growth rates for the border districts (see Table 1). Unlike the pattern in Arizona, federal prosecutors turn down very few cases relative to those that the district prosecutes, and turndowns have been falling.
So Texas' Western District was already swamped with drug cases, and the Southern District is rapidly catching up. What's more:
The data also show that the volume of recommendations for the prosecution of drug cases from the investigative agencies — what the Justice Department calls referrals — have been increasing faster than the actual prosecutions. This difference has occurred because the U.S. Attorneys have been declining a growing number of the referrals coming to them from the investigative agencies. The case-by-case information further shows that many of these matters were turned away as a result of what the prosecutors said was a lack of adequate prosecutorial or investigative resources in the border districts. ...

The large number of drug cases being turned away suggests that there are serious stresses on some federal prosecutor offices. A likely major source for these strains is the powerful flood of immigration cases that has washed over the region and that at its peak in FY 2009 was two and a half times the level it was in FY 2007 (see earlier TRAC report).
RELATED: From Texas on the Potomac: "Texans ask feds to reimburse locals for smuggling prosecutions."

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