According to researchers at Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), the first six months of FY 2014 have seen substantial changes in the criminal enforcement of immigration laws among those districts along the border with Mexico.
There has been a drop in the number of criminal prosecutions for "illegal entry" under 8 USC 1325, but a continued rise in prosecutions for "illegal re-entry" (8 USC 1326).
Crossing the border was once a matter for civil immigration courts but is now handled in federal criminal courts along the border. Under this program, known as Operation Streamline, people caught crossing the border are criminally charged with either unauthorized entry (a misdemeanor) or unauthorized re-entry (a felony).
According to the case-by-case records analyzed by TRAC, during the first six months of FY 2014 there were a total of 15,578 criminal prosecutions for unauthorized entry, and 19,831 for unauthorized re-entry. That means the largest component of criminal prosecutions for all immigration offenses is now for unauthorized re-entry under 8 USC 1326. This marks a significant change, since in recent years prosecutions for unauthorized entry — a petty misdemeanor — had outnumbered those for the more serious felony charge of unauthorized re-entry
Arizona is driving the rise of felony prosecutions of migrants.
While the two Texas border districts had the highest illegal entry prosecutions, the data indicate that Arizona clearly dominates in prosecution numbers for illegal re-entry. Moreover, the gap between the prosecution numbers in Arizona and the remaining border districts has been steadily growing. Indeed, the national trends are almost entirely a reflection of the trends in Arizona. Generally, aside from minor variation, recent trends in the other districts have been relatively flat or falling.
A drop in the number of prosecutions for unauthorized entry is certainly a good thing, but the fact that it is coupled with such a sharp rise in prosecutions for unauthorized re-entry is disturbing because the sentences for unauthorized re-entry are longer. Locking up more people for more time only benefits the for-profit private prison industry that operates "Criminal Alien Requirement" (CAR) prisons.
The change we really want to see at the border is an end to all criminal prosecutions of migrants.