Sunday, March 22, 2009

Criminal Aliens Everywhere

(Third in the 12-part BorderLines series: "Aliens, Crime, and Drugs: Making the Connection.") The immigrant crackdown counts on widespread public and policymaker support for an array of DHS and DHS programs that round up and remove criminal aliens. When President Bush sent his 2009 budget request to Congress, Democrat-led Senate and the House committees competed to add hundreds of millions of dollars more for the various initiatives of DHS’ Criminal Alien Program. This year’s criminal alien budget stands at $1 billion -- $200 million more than the president had requested. Next year that budget may rise to $1.4 billion, unless Congress adds more to the President Obama’s request. The prosecution and imprisonment of criminal aliens is overtaking the country’s criminal justice system. Overall, federal criminal prosecutions are rising spectacularly, overwhelming judges and burdening federal prosecutors with unprecedented caseloads. According to new statistics released by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), prosecutions in 2008 were 70% higher than in 2003. The arrest and prosecution of immigrants for immigration violations accounted for 55% of the new cases in December 2008, while drug cases accounted for 16% of the caseload that month. Five years ago drug abuse cases accounted for the most prosecutions but today immigration violations far outnumber drug abuse prosecutions. While charges for illegal entry and reentry have increased steadily over the past five years, the charge that showed the greatest increase in prosecutions – up 120% over 2007 – was document fraud, a charge filed mostly against illegal immigrants living and working in the country. Even as illegal immigration and apprehension rates have been falling over the past three years, the number of immigrants detained and deported by ICE has been rising. Between 2003 and 2007, the total number of immigrants detained by ICE rose from 231,500 to 311, 213. Although apprehensions along the border fell by 17% in 2008, deportations increased, rising from 319,382 in 2007 to 349,041 in 2008. One major reason for increased detention and removals is the increasing number of legal immigrants who are being removed because they have been identified as criminal aliens. In 2007, 99,924 of the 319, 041 immigrants deported were criminal aliens. Roughly one in five of these criminal aliens had been charged with criminal immigration violations such as illegal entry and aggravated identity fraud. The leading criminal violation – one in three – was a drug abuse conviction. In 2008 ICE deported 110,000 criminal aliens. The proportion of criminal aliens to the total number of deported immigrants will likely rise at a much greater rate in coming years as ICE implements its plans to identify and charge with deportation all the immigrants, legal and illegal, who are in federal, state, or local detention. In the past, immigrants, legal or illegal, who were convicted and sentenced to prison were generally released following the completion of their sentence. Once fully implemented, ICE’s Criminal Alien Program will ensure that all criminal aliens will be transferred to ICE custody after being released. Having met the criminal consequences of their violations, they will then face the immigration consequences – imprisonment at an ICE facility (mostly privately run) until removal from the country. This new ICE initiative under its Criminal Alien Program is called “Secure Communities: A Comprehensive Plan to Identity and Remove Criminal Aliens.” ICE says Secure Communities aims to “reach the goal of identifying and removing all aliens convicted of a crime.” This goal is a subset of DHS’ overriding goal, as defined by its 2003 Operation Endgame strategy, to “remove all removable aliens.” Next: Criminal Aliens Without End

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