Brendan Kirby, LifeZette, November 7, 2017
In another sign there’s a new sheriff in town, President Donald Trump’s administration handed over more than 200 first-time border crossers caught in a single area of Arizona for criminal prosecution, according to Customs and Border Protection figures.
In the past five years, federal prosecutors brought illegal entry charges against an average of 239 people a year. In the five years before that, an average of 1,356 people a year were charged.
“It’s one of those things they do to deter people from coming … It’s a crackdown,” said Andrew “Art” Arthur, a fellow in law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies.
“It’s just a matter of enforcement under the Trump administration,” said Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA. “They’re going to take every single illegal crossing seriously, whether it’s the first one or the 10th one.”
Chmielenski said federal prosecutors pursued more first-time offenders toward the end of George W. Bush’s administration. He said this led to Obama’s “catch-and-release” policy, in which the Obama administration instructed U.S. Border Patrol officers to release people apprehended at the border — sometimes with a notice to appear in immigration court and sometimes not.
Typically, illegal immigrants do not face criminal charges unless they have previously been caught in the United States without permission. At that point, they can be prosecuted for illegal re-entry, a felony punishable by two years in prison.
Chmielenski said even though first-time offenders face only a misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to six months in jail, it still can serve as a deterrent. That is important considering that illegal crossings have been on the rise after hitting a low in April, he said.
But Chmielenski said the federal government does not have the resources to target everyone.
The new policy has the support of the union that represents Border Patrol officers.