August 7, 2002
Prosecutions rise following overhaul of immigration laws
Most charged had history of arrests
By JOE CANTLUPE
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – Immigration prosecutions nationwide more
than doubled between 1996 and 2000 because of tighter
immigration laws, Justice Department officials said yesterday.
The number of people charged with immigration offenses in
federal courts went from 6,605 in 1996 to 15,613 in 2000, an
internal Justice study found.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of people are arrested trying
to enter the country illegally, but only a small percentage of
them are prosecuted.
The rise began after enactment of the Illegal Immigration
Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.
At least half the arrests reported in 2000 targeted immigrants
who tried to enter the United States illegally from other
countries, most often Mexico.
Immigration advocates say the increase in arrests reflects a law
that is unduly harsh, but supporters of the crackdown, including
groups seeking to restrict immig ration, say it is a necessary
The arrests reflect a "system that is failing everyone," said Judy
Golub, a senior director at the American Immigration Lawyers
Association, an immigrant advocacy group.
"We're spending hundreds of billions of dollars for (jails) for
people who are building our houses and taking care of our kids
instead of those meaning to do us harm," Golub said.
More than two-thirds of the people charged with immigration
offenses had a history of previous arrests; 36 percent had five or
more prior arrests, according to the report.
At least 20 percent of them were targeted for smuggling illegal
Justice officials did not list a state-by-state breakdown of
The immigration arrests might continue to increase dramatically
if the Justice Department continues to "criminalize more and
more behavior" in the wake of the war on terrorism, said Angela
Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum.
Kelley referred to the Justice Department plan to file charges
against immigrants who fail to return change-of-address cards to
the government in a timely manner.
"We'll be taking aim at people who could make enormous
contributions to this country," she said of the government.
David Ray, associate director of the Federation for American
Immigration Reform, said the immigration overhaul in 1996
properly targeted immigrants who were breaking U.S. laws.
"Sept. 11 forced us to ratchet up our scrutiny of who's here and
when they intend to leave," Ray said. "I think the (arrest)
numbers will continue to rise as we more closely scrutinize
those who aren't supposed to be here in this country."