What Emergency? Immigration and Drug Crimes Way Down Along the Border.
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What Emergency? Immigration and Drug Crimes Way Down Along the Border.

Even as Trump Asserts There’s a Crisis, a Big Dropoff in Criminal Prosecutions

David Cay Johnston

A funny thing has happened along the Mexican border, where Donald Trump asserts an immigration and drug smuggling crisis exists.

Trump administration prosecutions for illegal immigration crimes are down sharply in all five federal jurisdictions along the border with Mexico. So, too, are drug prosecutions, which are far fewer in number than immigration cases, a new analysis of Justice Department data shows.

National news coverage of these facts, however, is as scant as prosecutions.

Let’s look at the numbers because they make clear that no emergency exists except in Trump’s imagination. By the interpretation most favorable to Trump, the federal government is not acting as if there is an emergency.

The busiest such area is the Southern District of Texas, which includes Houston. In December 2018 there were 4,200 prosecutions for entering America without permission. That was down from 21% from the month before.

The West Texas District, based in San Antonio, filed just 1,245 cases in December, down 34% from the month before.

Nationwide immigration prosecutions fell 22% in December to 11,390 cases.

The five prosecutorial districts that border Mexico did account for about 96% of all illegal immigration criminal cases last year. But the numbers are so small along our Southern border that an emergency exists only in Trump’s increasingly erratic mind.

To put this in perspective, almost two-thirds of all federal prosecutions under Trump are for immigration law violations. Offenses such as bribery, corruption and selling out our country to foreign interests are exceedingly rare.

We get these official numbers via Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse or TRAC.

Raw data from a host of federal agencies are gathered by Professor Susan Long and her co-director, David Burnham, whose New York Times exposes of pervasive New York Police Department corruption inspired the 1973 film, Serpico. (Disclosure: I teach pre-law students at Syracuse University College of Law and have no connection to TRAC, which is run out of another school at the university.)

Surprisingly, given how much Trump rails about drug smuggling from Mexico, prosecutions for illegal drug offenses are a minor, and declining, federal activity on his watch.

Just 90 federal drug cases of all types were filed in the Southern District of Texas in December, down from 132 the month before. Nationwide only 1,282 federal drug cases were filed.

In the five border districts, drug cases plummeted 18%. That’s more than the 16% decline in the rest of the country.

These are, indeed, strange facts given the sing-song nonsense Trump spewed in the Rose Garden this week. He even admitted there is no emergency.

The small numbers of cases—and the declines in prosecutions—contrast with Trump’s declaration of a national emergency. But then to Trump facts are not realities to be shaded or clouded, as is the case with many politicians. Facts are, to Trump, obstacles to his desire for dictatorial rule.

Trump asserts that this fabricated emergency imbues him with the power to divert U.S. military funds to build the wall that he promised voters Mexico would finance. The attorneys general of 16 states, all Democrats, have taken him to court.

It is difficult to imagine any federal judge siding with Trump given that our Constitution gives Congress control of the purse and directs the president to “faithfully execute” the laws Congress makes.

Conservative judges would likely worry that expanded executive powers could be used by future Democratic presidents. Liberal judges would easily find that Trump has no factual basis for his emergency. And all judges would for sure take into account the U.S. Supreme Court decision rejecting President Harry S Truman’s 1952 attempt to nationalize the steel industry during the Korean military conflict by invoking emergency powers.

The high court noted back then that Congress had denied Truman this power. That will, for sure, be a major issue in the current court case over the wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for, but of course, never will.

Trump’s failure to get Congress to fund his wall will be especially significant because if it really mattered, he could have gotten funding when the GOP was in control of Congress in 2017-18. Now, with Democrats in control of the House, there is no chance his wall will be approved by Congress.

Next time you hear from someone that drug smuggling is an emergency matter at our border with Mexico tell them that in December the Trump administration filed only 332 drug cases in the federal prosecution districts bordering Mexico, many of which had nothing to do with smuggling—and that this was 71 fewer cases than were filed the month before.

February 21, 2019