The Los Angeles Times has a front-page story that suggests the federal government is really cracking down on people who illegally re-enter the country. However, the paper doesn’t tell you that the big “crackdown” is actually a joke. Here is the story’s lede:
Federal authorities are cracking down on immigrants who were previously deported and then reentered the country illegally — a crime that now makes up more than one-third of all prosecutions in Los Angeles and surrounding counties, a Times review of U.S. attorney’s statistics shows.
The surge in prosecutions reflects the federal government’s push in recent years to detect illegal immigrants with criminal records in what may seem the most obvious of places: the state’s jails and prisons.
It sounds encouraging, until you look at the actual numbers of this “surge” in prosecutions:
Prosecutors filed 539 such cases in fiscal year 2007, making up 35% of the total caseload, compared to 207 in 2006 — 17% of all cases. Statistics for the first four months of this fiscal year show the trend continuing.
539 cases, up from 207 in 2006. That’s like saying: we’re getting an extra foot of water in this ship every minute — but we’re now bailing out the water with two eyedroppers instead of one! Great news! Now the ship will sink in five hours instead of 4 hours and 58 minutes. I’m relieved! How about you?
By any measure, tens of thousands of illegal aliens head for the Central District of California every year, many of whom have been removed from the country before. The first comment to this post has some relevant statistics.
When illegal immigrants re-enter the country, how likely are they to be prosecuted? Everyone knows that U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the Southwest have extremely restrictive filing guidelines on filing illegal re-entry cases. Recall that, during the U.S. Attorney scandal, it emerged that (with rare exceptions) Paul Charlton in Phoenix refused to prosecute illegal re-entry cases until the illegal alien had illegally re-entered the country for the 13th time. That’s not a typo. In most cases, if an illegal alien was deported and re-entered the country for the twelfth time, Charlton wouldn’t prosecute him.
Moreover, ICE agents lack incentive to submit illegal re-entrants for prosecution. Let’s revisit a post I did in June of last year, as part of my Deport the Criminals First series. In that post, I told you:
A source who wishes to remain anonymous, but whose word I trust, tells me an eye-opening story. My source once had a conversation with an ICE deportation officer in the Southern California area, who said that he personally arrests (on average) two people a week who could be prosecuted for illegal re-entry — but that he almost never submits the cases for prosecution. Instead, he just deports them. The deportation officer explained to my source that, as far as ICE is concerned, there is no requirement that every potential case of illegal re-entry be submitted for prosecution. Whether to submit such cases is considered an internal matter within ICE.
What’s more, the deportation officer said, there is no incentive to prosecute illegal re-entry cases. Some other ICE agents are specifically tasked with putting together illegal re-entry cases, and they do their job. But as a deportation officer, this agent said, he doesn’t get any additional recognition or credit for submitting illegal re-entry cases for prosecution — and it’s a lot more paperwork than simply deporting an illegal alien. So, although he arrested something like a hundred people a year for this offense — and keep in mind that we’re talking about only one deportation officer here — he submitted almost none for prosecution.
So if the prosecutions have more than doubled, what does that mean? It means that now, instead of submitting between zero and one cases per 100 for prosecution, that officer is probably now submitting two out of every 100. Don’t you feel better?
Sorry, but I’m not impressed that the Central District is prosecuting 539 people a year for illegal re-entry. I don’t blame the people who run that office; there’s only so much they can do with the resources they’ve been given. Hey, it’s a good thing, I suppose, that they’re using two eyedroppers instead of one. But it’s still fundamentally inadequate by several orders of magnitude, and the responsibility for that goes much higher than the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.
This is the context that the L.A. Times should be giving to its readers. Instead, they’re pushing a front-page story that suggests that the government is really cracking down. The message is: We’re doing enforcement first! And we all know what comes next:
Amnesty for everyone!