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BJS Analyzes Immigration Offenders

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a divison of the U.S. Department of
Justice, disclosed in an August 2002 special report that the number of
persons referred to federal prosecutors for an immigration offense as the
most serious offense rose to 16,495 persons in 2000, a record high since
passage of the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.
An additional 919 persons were referred for prosecution of immigration
offenses secondary to more serious charges. This has strongly affected the
federal prison population, resulting in significant growth in the number of
federal prisoners.

The 1996 immigration act added more law enforcement officers and greater
law enforcement responsibilities to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization
Service (INS). Following the act's passage, INS added over 5,200 law
enforcement officers, most of whom were assigned to Texas, Arizona,
California, New York, and Florida. These five states are also the top five
employers of INS personnel. Unsurprisingly, these five states saw the
greatest increases in referrals for prosecution on immigration violations.
Fifty-seven percent of persons referred for prosecution on immigration
offenses were Mexican citizens. U.S. citizens represented 7% of offenders;
Chinese, 3%; and all other nationalities (mostly from Asia and Oceana), 28%.

Interestingly, federal prosecutors prosecuted immigration offenders more
frequently than all other offenders. Normally, federal prosecutors decline
to prosecute in 26% of cases. In the case of immigration offenders, though,
federal prosecutors decline to prosecute only 3% of cases referred. In
addition, federal judges in the top five INS enforcement states --
especially Texas, California, and Arizona -- hand down much harsher
sentences for immigration violations than federal judges in other states.
Indeed, in 2000, 91% of all convicted immigration offenders were
incarcerated with an average prison term of 20.6 months. This compares to
an incarceration rate of 57% and an average prison term of 3.6 months in 1985.

Consequently, the report states, "[i]ncreased prosecutions and changes to
sentencing policy have had a substantial effect on the size of the Federal
prison population." At yearend 2000, 13,676 immigration offenders were in
federal prisons, a 9-fold increase from 1,593 prisoners in 1985. Further,
"[t]he increase in immigration offenders incarcerated accounted for 14% of
the overall growth in the Federal prison population between 1985 and 2000."
The report details the types of offenses for which immigration offenders
are imprisoned and analyzes the incarceration rates by crime, gender,
ethnicity, and other factors.

The report is titled "Immigration Offenders in the Federal Criminal Justice
System, 2000," and is report number NCJ191745. One copy of the report is
free by writing Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs,
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC 20531. The report can be
downloaded free in ASCII or portable document format from the BJS website
at .

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