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The United States is prosecuting more immigration crimes than ever before, according to a new report from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

The report finds that the United States has pursued 90,806 new immigration prosecutions through the first 11 months of fiscal year 2013 — 93 percent of the prosecutions were for entering or re-entering the country illegally.

At this pace, the number of prosecutions for the year will end at 99,061 — easily the highest total in the past 20 years. As the following chart shows, the Obama administration’s rate of immigration prosecutions significantly outpaces that of the previous two administrations:

TRAC Chart

The number of immigration prosecutions has skyrocketed over the past five years, even as the number of illegal border crossings has hit a 40-year low. Additionally, the Pew Research Center estimates that the United States’ undocumented immigrant population was about 11.7 million in 2012  — significantly down from the 2007 peak of 12.2 million.

Pew chart

As Aviva Shen points out at ThinkProgress, in addition to the human costs of criminalizing immigrants instead of merely deporting them, the sharp rise in prosecutions also has serious fiscal ramifications:

These prosecutions also bleed taxpayer dollars. Illegal-entry offenders under federal sentencing serve an average of 19 months in federal prison, costing more than $30,000 per inmate. As a result, immigration offenders make up almost one-third of the total federal prison population.

One would think that, with the border more secure than ever, that prosecutions would decline. But given that opponents of immigration reform consistently demand ever-more-severe enforcement measures as a precondition for even beginning to negotiate an immigration reform bill, there is no reason to expect that the authorities will get less aggressive in the near future.


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