Fewer People Are Crossing the Border, But More Are Going to Jail for it

Written by Aviva Shen

Even as the Obama administration vowed to make immigration reform a top priority, U.S. Attorneys along the border stepped up criminal charges against border crossers in the first 11 months of fiscal 2013, according to a new report by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). The vast majority of these cases were brought against immigrants for entering or re-entering the U.S. illegally.

New Mexico saw the most dramatic increase in prosecutions, up 46 percent from last year. Texas’ Southern and Western Districts have the most criminal immigration prosecutions in the nation, followed by Arizona, which actually saw a decrease in prosecutions this year. Overall, criminal prosecutions for border crossing are on pace to reach nearly 100,000 by the end of the fiscal year, a steep increase from 27,428 just five years ago.

Criminalizing migrants rather than simply deporting them back to Mexico is a relatively new phenomenon that wreaks havoc on migrants, their families and taxpayers’ wallets. Few border crossers have any criminal record before entering the U.S., and most are trying to reunite with family members who are often U.S. citizens or legal residents. In an earlier report from Human Rights Watch, US District Judge Robert Brack of New Mexico, who has sentenced over 11,000 people for illegal reentry, remarked, “For 10 years now, I’ve been presiding over a process that destroys families every day and several times each day.”

These prosecutions also bleed taxpayer dollars. Illegal entry offenders under federal sentencing serve an average of 19 months in federal prison, costing more than $30,000 per inmate. As a result, immigration offenders make up almost one-third of the total federal prison population.

Logically, prosecutions should be decreasing, as crossings have dwindled to record lows. The U.S.-Mexico border is more secure than ever before, yet border hawks continue to call for more spending. Even the Senate’s immigration reform bill increases penalties for border crossers and devotes funding specifically for Tucson, Ariz., to triple the number of prosecutions to 210 per day.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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Dale O.

Wonderful, Mary B. I certainly be-leaf in that philosophy as well.

Kathleen Tyson
Kathleen Tyson2 years ago

Over 20 years ago my daughter in law attempted to cross the border from Mexico ,while 8 months pregnant to join her family here in the u.s.
She was caught and sent back.
She attempted again and was successful.
She is a beautiful educated woman a wonderful wife to my son a d my now adult granddaughters.
My son met her when her daughter was 2.
She was left alone by her then husband in Mexico to fend for,herself.
Had she not continued her fight for a better life for her daughter she may have still been struggling in Mexico.
I admire these brave souls who try to strive to make better lives for themselves.

Judy Apelis
Judy Apelis2 years ago

Thank you

Lori Hone
Lori Hone2 years ago

Until the US-Mexico boarder is completely secured, nothing else is possible with immigration reform.

Mary B.
Mary B.2 years ago

Dale O......I don't shop cross border because of the things you mentioned.....My brother and my best friend live in the US.....I support the good old Maple leaf !!!

Dale O.

Lol, Mary B. Some of those border shoppers are bringing back cheaper American milk...which isn't even legal to sell in our stores because of the growth hormones permitted in U.S. based milk, banned here and in the EU (not counting organic milk, a different kettle of fish, but one never sees that sold here either).

The term 'aliens' always amuses me, Rofl. When they encounter The Borg, then they can really use the word 'alien.'


Dale O.

Thankfully, Mary B, I never encounter the type of border guards that you run into regarding hair and boyfriends. What a dolt. Someone send him to the 'Stop Objectifying Women Sensitivity Training Course. Either that... or as punishment to Costco's parking lot on Black Thursday...watch for the stampede!

Maybe the Borg will drop into Costco for a sale on nanoprobes and give that 'macho' border guard something to do, like face assimilation. I am too apathetic to pull out a passport to do 'cross border shopping.' Too much sitting in a car at a customs lineup, far easier to shop at home.


We won't include a 'Lotus Land' Vancouver or Victoria 'Winter' (what an oxymoron!) because all they get is rain, but for extra persuasion they can borrow our Northern Winters with -50. Add Alaska for an extra cold front.

Mary B.
Mary B.2 years ago

Dale O..... Shhhhhhhhh........That Costco is right across the border from me .....I can be there in 45 min. !!!!......Now about those winters, I live in Lotus land here in the southwest of BC.......I have had those same security guards (US) tell me they like my hair down like my passport picture, who am I going to visit in the US and is it my "boyfriend".....A charming dog go through my car and slober on my leather seats (no drugs or guns found).....But I guess we ARE those aliens they speak of..... SIGH !!!....BTW.....Canadians keep US border towns going financially....

Dale O.

Dianne D states: "I think jail time is good as those that are caught will have a criminal record and will not ever be permitted back into the country."

Earth calling Dianne D. "They will have a criminal record." Interesting.

"They will not be permitted back into the country." Intriguing. Most people entering your country illegally will not be showing up at the regular Customs gates and look at their watches whistling a tune while Customs/Immigration personnel check on the computer to see if they entered your country illegally the first time. Just a thought.

Worry not, I always enter legally, but then I am not from an impoverished nation on your southern border, nor am I a 'cross border shopper,' unsettling those at Costco in Bellingham, Washington.

Dale O.

Of course, perhaps the entire southern part of the U.S. could borrow the -30 Canadian Winter for a period of time and that experience could well deter some from much warmer climates from illegally dropping in. I am very generously offering to lend it to you for a period of time, in fact the longer that you borrow it, the better. Just plunk our Winter down where the illegals cross the southern border. No doubt a number will run home quick when they encounter that one.

Who knows, it might work, obviously what you are doing now has not worked entirely when it comes to uninvited fence hopping. Any warm weather nation having an ‘illegal’ entry problem, please feel free to borrow our Winter as well. We certainly won’t miss it. Orders are being accepted now. Winter is just around the corner. Rofl...Calgary!