Federal criminal prosecutions of immigrants surged to a record high in March, as immigration cases accounted for the majority – 57 percent – of new federal criminal cases brought nationwide, said a Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) report quoted by the New York Times. Immigration cases made up more than half of new federal prosecutions in February, reflecting an emphasis on immigration by the Bush administration and a policy shift to expand the use of criminal, rather than civil, charges. The group obtained the figures through the Freedom of Information Act.
Most cases were in districts along the border with Mexico and were part of a rapidly expanding program by the Border Patrol and the Justice Department to press criminal charges against virtually all immigrants caught crossing the border illegally in some sectors. “We've never seen such a surge at the national level,” said David Burnham, TRAC co-director. “They are deciding that the use of criminal law is the way to solve the border patrol problem.” The report said 99 percent of people referred to federal prosecutors for immigration offenses in March were charged. “Any immigration case that comes through the door is going to be prosecuted,” Burnham said. “That's astonishing.” Sentences for those convicted were short, with the median being one month.