Federal prosecutions of immigration crimes nearly doubled in the last fiscal year, reaching more than 70,000 cases, says the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. The emphasis, many federal judges and prosecutors tell the New York Times, has siphoned resources from other crimes, eroded morale among federal lawyers, and overloaded the federal court system. Many of those other crimes, including gun trafficking, organized crime and the increasingly violent drug trade, are routinely referred to state and county officials, who say they often lack the finances or authority to prosecute them effectively.
Bush administration officials say the focus on immigration crimes is an outgrowth of its counterterrorism strategy and vigorous pursuit of immigrants with criminal records. Federal immigration prosecutions have steeply risen over the last five years, while white-collar prosecutions have fallen by 18 percent, weapons prosecutions have dropped by 19 percent, organized crime prosecutions are down by 20 percent and public corruption prosecutions have dropped by 14 percent. Drug prosecutions – the enforcement priority of the Reagan, first Bush and Clinton administrations – have declined by 20 percent since 2003. “I have seen a national abdication by the Justice Department,” said Attorney General Terry Goddard of Arizona. Prosecutorial priorities are expected to change after President-elect Barack Obama takes office, said Mark Agrast of the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy institute that is closely associated with the transition team. “There will be a reassessment of whether aggressive targeting of criminal aliens through the use of federal criminal statues is an effective use of scarce law enforcement resources,” he said.