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Illegal re-entry prosecutions soar under Obama

Immigration activists rebuke president for failure to act on reform

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Texans are hammering away at Barack Obama for failing to secure our borders and for refusing to put forward a comprehensive immigration-reform plan, but the number of federal prosecutions for "illegal re-entry" has quietly skyrocketed under his administration.

U.S. Department of Justice data obtained from the Transactional Records Access Clearing House show that prosecutions for attempting to enter the country after having “been denied admission, excluded, deported, or removed” are on pace to surpass 37,100 for the year, an increase of more than 1,200 from 2010. If the trend continues, the Obama administration will have prosecuted more illegal immigrants for illegal re-entry in his first term than George W. Bush’s administration did in his two terms combined. From 2001 to 2008, 111,920 illegal immigrants were prosecuted for the crime — 42,465 in Bush’s first term and 69,455 in his second, an annual average of about 10,600 and 17,360, respectively. Obama's administration is averaging about 34,355 annually and is on pace to surpass 103,000 in his first three years.

TRAC estimates that almost half all criminal immigration cases prosecuted and nearly a quarter of all criminal prosecutions of any kind involve charges of illegal re-entry, which is a federal felony. TRAC estimates the average sentence for an immigrant convicted of the offense to be about 14 months.

Illegal re-entry recently surpassed illegal entry, the first-time offense for entering the country without permission, as the leading criminal immigration charge. Prosecution for illegal entry, a federal petty misdemeanor, has declined since 2009. That year there were about 54,200 prosecutions, followed by about 43,700 in 2010. If the pace seen during the first six months of 2011 continues, this year’s total may be less than 35,000. Despite the decline, however, the total prosecutions for illegal entry under Obama, projected to be about 132,400 by year’s end, would surpass the Bush administration’s eight-year total of 122,385. The numbers reflect an annual average of 7,154 and 23,442 during Bush’s first and second terms, respectively.

The increase in prosecutions is a catch 22 of sorts for Obama as he begins his reelection campaign in earnest. Conservatives politicians, including Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, accuse the administration of paying insufficient attention to border security. Liberal politicians, including several border-area Hispanics and legions of the president's 2008 supporters, say he is caving in to the GOP on comprehensive reform.

On the eve of Obama’s visit to El Paso last month, the Border Network for Human Rights, an immigrants rights coalition based there, asked why he didn’t act when his party was in control of both chambers.

“The increase in deportations in the last two years is disturbing considering your 2008 campaign promise to make comprehensive immigration reform your priority,” BNHR executive director Fernando Garcia wrote in a letter to the president. “We understand that you face serious challenges in Congress to pass reform now. But we do not understand why we weren’t able to create reform when there was a Democratic Congress.”

On Monday, U.S. Rep Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., led immigration activists in issuing a harsh rebuke of Obama’s efforts to court Latinos on a trip to Puerto Rico this week while continuing to deport undocumented students, or DREAMers — a moniker derived from the controversial Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.

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"The president obviously sees his visit to Puerto Rico as part of a larger Latino voter outreach strategy for 2012," Gutiérrez said, "but one of the most important, concrete steps he can take to show Latino voters he is on their side is to stop deporting DREAM Act students. Right away. Today.”

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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1 comment on this story

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293 comments
Jun 18, 2011, 7:59 am
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close the border now. Can’t be done?  Baloney.  Won’t be done is more like it. Distasteful?  Sorry, but the border war is here & getting worse. Ruthless drug runners abound and only respond to one thing. Force. Force and more force. National guard in more numbers is needed. b.b.

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Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

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