WASHINGTON -- As politicians call for more immigration enforcement and border security, a report released Wednesday found that the Obama administration is already focusing its efforts on immigration at the expense of other federal law-enforcement efforts.
Despite across-the-board staffing increases in federal law enforcement, only immigration enforcement -- particularly along the United States-Mexico border -- has increased substantially over the past two years, while other federal prosecutions in most of the country fell. Prosecutions for non-immigration felonies in non-border areas shrunk by 6 percent, according to government data analyzed by the nonpartisan Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
At the same time, the Obama administration made an unprecedented effort to curb illegal immigration, sending record levels of money and troops to the border and more than doubling petty immigration enforcement in southwestern districts.
Democrats in Congress assisted with the effort, approving hundreds of millions of dollars in border-security funding increases in hopes of winning Republican support for bills that would allow some of the 11.2 million undocumented immigrants already living in the United States to earn legal status. Substantial Republican support never materialized, however, and the legal-status legislation failed.
Meanwhile, the government deported almost 393,000 people in 2010, at a cost of about $5 billion -- nearly 100,000 more people than the George W. Bush administration deported in 2007.
Although illegal immigration levels fell due to slackened job growth, immigration prosecutions steadily climbed in recent years after immigration reform efforts failed in Congress. Felony immigration prosecutions along the border with Mexico grew by 77 percent between 2007 -- the year Bush's efforts to pass immigration reform were defeated -- and 2010, according to TRAC data. Over the same period, non-felony immigration prosecutions along the border surged by 259 percent.
Staffing levels and changes in policy, not the actual rate of crime, tend to account for changes in prosecution rates. Within immigration enforcement, sharp increases seem to indicate both larger staffs and a heightened focus on policing illegal immigration. Although the Obama administration built up federal law-enforcement personnel across the board, increases in immigration enforcement staffing were especially high. Over a two-year period, Immigration and Customs Enforcement increased its staff by 22 percent, while Customs and Border Protection grew by 21 percent.
The current administration has repeatedly rebuffed claims that it has not seriously policed the southwestern border. In fact, federal law enforcement in the five districts along the border with Mexico makes up nearly half of all federal prosecutions, even though those districts contain less than 10 percent of the population, according to TRAC data.
"[It is] inaccurate to state, as too many have, that the border is overrun with violence and out of control," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Monday in El Paso, Texas. "This statement, often made only to score political points, is just plain wrong."