Sharp hike in U.S. immigration charges

Federal data released today show a very sharp increase in the number of criminal immigration cases the U.S. Department of Justice is prosecuting - up 16 percent in fiscal year 2009. As a result, federal prosecutions overall are at an all-time high.An analysis from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse - a non-profit at Syracuse University that routinely wrests data from the federal government through the Freedom of Information Act - shows how much federal law enforcement priorities have shifted during the decade now drawing to a close.Although there are more federal prosecutions than ever, there are only a third as many securities fraud cases as in 2002 and a quarter of the corporate fraud cases brought in 2003.Of the 91,899 criminal immigration cases in FY 2009, just 8 cases accused employers (at 13 companies) of felony charges of hiring undocumented workers, and 24 cases accused 36 individuals of knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants. Almost all of the criminal immigration cases - 9 out of 10 - charged undocumented immigrants with illegal entry into the country. (Note: These data are for criminal cases, not civil deportation cases.)The data are for the year ended Sept. 30, which means that the period spanned the Bush and Obama administrations. As the analysis notes, many of the cases filed during the Obama administration may have been in the pipeline before Obama took office.When Attorney General Eric Holder outlined the Justice Department's priorities before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, he didn't use the word "immigration" once - he talked about terrorism, international organized crime, economic crime and narcotics as his priorities. The truth, though, is that most of his criminal cases are against people whose aim is to work hard at a job in the United States.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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