March 18, 2014

The Rise of Federal Immigration Crimes

4. The Geography of Unlawful Reentry Cases

Of the 19,463 unlawful reentry convictions in 2012, 73% were concentrated in only five U.S. border districts—the Southern District of Texas, the District of Arizona, the Western District of Texas, the District of New Mexico and the Southern District of California. As a result, these districts have the highest average caseload per judgeship of all of the 94 federal district courts, according to Pew Research analysis. Combined, the average number of sentences per judgeship in these districts was 560 compared with 103 for the other 89 districts.1

In recent years, many immigrants convicted in federal courts of unlawful reentry were processed under the U.S. Border Patrol’s Operation Streamline program. Implemented in five Border Patrol Southwest sectors2 in conjunction with federal courts and attorneys, the program allows up to 40 unauthorized immigrants charged with unlawful reentry to be prosecuted at the same time. This program has accounted for 45% of all federal immigration-related prosecutions in Southwest border districts between 2005 and 2012 (Rosenblum, 2013).

The concentration of unlawful reentry cases in these districts has dramatically skewed the average number of cases per judge across U.S. district courts. In the Washington D.C. district court there were 24 sentences per judgeship in 2012; in the Southern District of New York (Manhattan) there were 55 sentences per judge. By comparison, there were 718 sentences per judgeship in the Western District of Texas.

Share of all Unlawful Reentry Convictions in 2012, by U.S. District Court

  1. numoffset=”12″ Data on the number of judgeships per U.S. federal court district in 2012 is available at http://www.uscourts.gov/Statistics/JudicialFactsAndFigures/judicial-facts-figures-2012.aspx.
  2. Operation Streamline was first established in the Border Patrol’s Del Rio Section of the western District of Texas in December 2005. Subsequently, it was expanded to the Yuma Sector in Arizona (December 2006), the Laredo Sector in Texas (October 2007), the Tucson Sector in Arizona (January 2008) and the Rio Grande Valley Sector in Texas (June 2008).