Prosecuting Illegal Reentry

Today’s L.A. Times describes the relatively new effort of ICE and the U.S. attorney’s office to deter illegal immigration by prosecuting serial border crossers for illegal reentry. Illegal reentry is a felony under the Immigration and Nationality Act, with penalties that start at a fine of $1000 and imprisonment of not more than 2 years for first-time offenders with no prior criminal records and scale up to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000 for those who have previously been convicted of an aggravated felony. These prosecutions made up more than a third of the caseload for the U.S. attorney’s office in L.A. last year.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Los Angeles are largely responsible for the recent spike in prosecutions. In 2006, they created a nine-person team to scrutinize inmate populations for potential prosecution. ICE officials also placed an officer in the U.S. attorney’s office to serve as a liaison with immigration officials on these cases. In addition, ICE agents look for possible defendants — primarily gang members — in communities around Southern California.Prosecutions are likely to continue increasing nationwide as ICE expands its work in jails. Congress recently appropriated $200 million for the agency, which Myers said would be used to develop technology and to work with local and state officials to identify more illegal immigrants behind bars.

The effort in Los Angeles was recently cited by U.S. Atty. Gen. Michael Mukasey, who said Justice Department officials were reviewing it “with an eye toward expanding it to the Southwest border districts” and elsewhere.

Judge Einhorn (the go-to guy for immigration law news articles following his retirement from the L.A. Immigration Court last year) and others quoted in the article doubt that the new strategy will actually deter illegal reentry. I agree. The chances of getting caught are still too small to make much of a difference in illegals’ decisionmaking. But that’s not the whole point. Punishing people for illegal reentry is a good thing whether it has a deterrent effect or not.

~ by Gabriel Malor on March 16, 2008.

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