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Criminal Prosecutions for Illegal Border Crossings Dropped 37% During 2019

The number of criminal prosecutions referred by immigration authorities to the Department of Justice dropped by more than 37 percent over the past year, according to an analysis of case records by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

The sharp drop between October 2018 and October 2019 appears to be connected to a shift in DOJ priorities since the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, rather than to any change in the number of undocumented individuals trying to cross the border, TRAC said.

Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings in April 2018—and by the following October, prosecutions had soared to more than 13,000.

But after his resignation, the number dropped precipitously.

Records obtained through Freedom of Information Act lawsuits pursued by TRAC showed that in October 2019, just 8,315 new prosecutions had been filed—a decline of 4.2 percent from the previous month—continuing a pattern of decline over the previous six months.

TRAC noted that the decline occurred even as apprehensions at the border began climbing sharply last March.

“We find that criminal referrals were driven not by rates of unlawful border crossing, but by policy decisions directing Customs and Border Protection and federal prosecutors to focus on specific crimes for federal prosecution,” TRAC concluded.

TRAC suggested that Justice officials had effectively used Sessions’ resignation to shift priorities.

“With limited investigative and prosecution resources, devoting more resources to prosecuting immigration offenses inevitably meant fewer resources were available to pursue other types of federal offenses such as drug offenses, weapons, and white-color crimes,” TRAC said.

Some 91 percent of the criminal prosecutions referred by federal immigration agencies last October were in the five judicial districts along the southwest border, however, underlining that the focus of the White House immigration crackdown remains individuals attempting to cross at the Mexican border with the U.S.

Read the full report here.