Immigrant Criminal Prosecutions Decline Under Trump
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Immigrant Criminal Prosecutions Decline Under Trump

He Talks Tough, but Data Show Trump’s Softer on ‘Illegal Aliens’ than Obama

Maybe Trump isn’t the tough guy he plays on TV.

When he was ginning up fear from voters about “illegal aliens” pouring over our borders, Trump the campaigner painted a picture of an America seething with Mexican rapists, drug runners and Muslim terrorists.

In that dystopian picture of this country world, what, then, would Trump make of a June 2017 study out of Syracuse University that shows a dramatic drop in Department of Justice criminal prosecution cases as a result of referrals from the immigration and customs components of the Department of Homeland Security?

Fewer criminals are being prosecuted on Trump’s watch.

According to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), Justice Department data from April 2017 showed that the U.S. reported 4,434 new criminal prosecutions as a result of Homeland Security referrals from immigration and customs components. Based on these totals, TRAC found prosecutions of such cases fell 17.5% from March 2016. More significantly, criminal cases referred from Homeland Security to Justice regarding immigration have dropped 42.9% from the levels recorded a year ago.

The downturn in criminal immigration cases begs for an interpretation.

“Is it down because it is less of a priority, or is it down because there are fewer potential people that qualify for these kinds of cases?’’ said Susan Long, a statistician and professor in Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management.

While both are intriguing interpretations, the real value of the recent study may be its service as a baseline for criminal prosecution cases going forward under Trump. These trends don’t reflect the impact of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ April 11, 2017, directive calling for the stepped up use of criminal sanctions in the immigration area.

ACTION BOX / What you can do about it

The Trump promise to deport 2 to 3 million criminal immigrants within months of his inauguration is falling flat. So are criminal case referrals of immigration cases from Dept. of Homeland Security to Dept. of Justice. It’s still important to keep track of actions, laws and orders targeted for the immigration community.

The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild is a great resource:14 Beacon Street, Suite 602 / Boston, Mass. 02108 / (617) 227-9727

You can track legislation and hearings from the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration

The National Immigration Law Center is on top of issues, too.

Meanwhile, as The Washington Post recently reported: Arrests of undocumented immigrants with no criminal records had more than doubled—to 5,441—from January to mid-March compared with the same period last year. Overall, “arrests rose 32.6% in the first weeks of the Trump administration,” the Post wrote, “with newly empowered federal agents intensifying their pursuit of not just undocumented immigrants with criminal records, but also thousands of illegal immigrants who have been otherwise law-abiding.’’

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has also reported that nearly three-quarters of the immigrants arrested from Jan. 20 to March 13 had criminal convictions, an increase of 15% over the same period last year.

If you are an immigrant (legal or not), make a copy of this card and carry it with you. Prepared by The National Immigration Law Center.

While Trump is making good on rounding up undocumented immigrants, the administration will seek to distinguish criminal prosecution of immigrants from “Deporter-in-Chief” Obama. A Newsweek report in April detailed how Trump trailed Obama on deportation and was falling short of his promise to deport 2 to 3 million immigrants with criminal records—a fact born out so far by the TRAC study.

A Pew Institute study based on DOJ statistics found that “half (50%) of the 165,265 total arrests made by the federal government in fiscal 2014 were for immigration-related offenses, such as crossing the border illegally or smuggling others into the United States.” That was up from 28% from 2004.

In 2014, Obama–whose first term saw record deportations—pledged to focus enforcement efforts on individuals that posed a threat to security.

“Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day,” Obama said in 2014. According to ICE’s figures, the agency conducted more than 240,000 removals from the country in fiscal year 2016. Ninety-two% (92%) of those who were arrested by ICE and deported were convicted criminals.

Through his Executive Order on immigration, Trump has loosened the definition of criminal to “includes anyone who has crossed the border illegally,” as The New York Times has written.

And despite the dramatic drop in criminal cases, Trump wants more money for ICE as well as other arms of U.S. immigration law enforcement, as the administration claims “ICE arrests are up 38% since the same time period last year’’ and that 144,353 aliens were removed from the United States; 54% (78,301) of whom had criminal convictions.

June 21, 2017