Texas advocates join call to end federal criminal prosecutions of migrants

July 28, 2015

Advocates join letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking for an end to federal prosecution of migrants and push back against proposed sentencing minimums

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Today 171 organizations delivered a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch calling for an end to federal prosecution of migrants on entry and reentry charges. The letter comes after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is unable to demonstrate that Border Patrol referrals of apprehended migrants for prosecution by U.S. Attorney’s Offices actually deter unauthorized migration, and does not track the resources spent on these prosecutions.

“Criminal prosecutions of migrants for entry and reentry are not a deterrent and criminalize the act of re-joining one’s family,” said Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership. “The government should discontinue the use of widespread criminal prosecutions that come at such a high human and financial cost when there is no evidence that it accomplishes the intended policy goal.”

Illegal entry and reentry are now the most prosecuted federal crimes in the United States, and according to the Pew Research Center, the increase in reentry convictions over the past two decades accounts for 48 percent of the growth in total convictions in federal courts over the period. In keeping with the bi-partisan effort to reduce federal incarceration, advocates are calling on Attorney General Lynch to end these prosecutions.

“Operation Streamline is a costly and ineffective program that’s prosecuting asylum seekers and fueling mass incarceration of Latinos seeking safety in the United States or returning to their families,” said Astrid Dominguez of the Texas ACLU. “The DHS Inspector General's recent report confirmed what advocates have said all along: the federal government is wasting hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars annually on a failed program that hasn’t been shown to deter migration and violates the United States’ international obligations. The Justice Department should discontinue prosecutions for illegal entry and reentry at the southern border.”

Several pieces of currently proposed legislation run counter to the goal of decreasing mass incarceration. Senate Resolution 104 would express a sense of the Senate that prosecutions for illegal entry and reentry are effective. Other proposals would create new 5-year mandatory minimums for illegal reentry, with varying stipulations on who this new minimum would apply to. These proposals would all be setbacks for immigrants, taxpayers, and civil rights groups who have been working towards reducing the federal prison population. Estimated conservatively, a new five-year mandatory minimum for illegal reentry would cost taxpayers nearly $2 billion annually, assuming FY 2013 illegal reentry conviction levels, and would ultimately increase the federal prison population by approximately 65,000 prisoners from its current level of 208,000. The federal Bureau of Prisons would need to build more than 20 new prisons or crowd its prisons to 167 percent of rated capacity. “One-size-fits-all” justice through mandatory minimum sentences is not the solution. 

"At a time when a bi-partisan group of leaders in states across the country are rethinking the policies that lead to mass incarceration, the federal government should not take a step backwards and institute mandatory minimums or other harsh sentences for low-level immigration violations," said Dr. Ana Yañez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.  "In fact, as a step towards reducing our federal prison population, the government should roll back the criminal prosecutions of migrants as there is no evidence that they lead to their stated outcomes."

Contact: 

Bob Libal, blibal@grassrootsleadership.org, 512-499-8111