Immigration advocates want the Justice Department to review whether it is applying immigration laws humanely.
Advocates said over half of all federal criminal prosecutions are immigration-related, followed by drugs, which account for about 15 percent of federal criminal prosecutions.
“There is no guidance from DOJ down to the U.S. attorneys to say you should look at factors, you should check the person out before you charge them, you should see if they’ve lived in the country for decades, if they have stong ties,” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice Education Fund.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is reviewing whether Obama administration policies are applied humanely, including whether how well it is following a deportation system that gives priority to serious criminals.
Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents refer people to U.S. attorneys for prosecution. The Obama administration has focused its border enforcement efforts on people who recently crossed the border illegally and those who re-entered illegally.
But advocates said people with families in the U.S., who have worked and lived here for years, are getting caught in a prosecution mill. In some courts, immigrants are prosecuted a few dozen at a time or are offered deals to plead guilty, but give up possible legal relief, the advocates said.
According to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, there were 53,822 prosecutions for illegal entry in the 2013 fiscal year, close to a peak in FY2009 of 54,175. Re-entry prosecutions have steadily climbed to a high of 37,440 last fiscal year.
Andrew Nietor, a criminal defense attorney in San Diego, Calif., said the rise in criminal prosecutions for immigration offenses “is inconsistent with the stated priorities of the administration, the efficient use of our federal courts and the ideals of treating everyone fairly in our system of justice.”