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Immigration Offenders in the Federal Criminal Justice System, 2000

TUESDAY, AUGUST 6, 2002 202/307-0784


WASHINGTON, D.C. - The number of people prosecuted for immigration offenses in federal courts more than doubled from 1996 through the year 2000, growing from 6,605 defendants in 1996 to 15,613 defendants in 2000, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today.

In 1996 a new law authorized increases in U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) hiring, which resulted in the number of INS law enforcement officers growing from 12,403 to 17,654. Two-thirds of the increase were Border Patrol agents. Approximately 75 percent of the increase in referrals to U.S. attorneys for immigration offenses between 1996 and 2000 occurred in the five states (Texas, California, Arizona, New York and Florida) that received the greatest number of new INS officers.

The number of immigration offenders serving federal prison sentences increased almost ninefold between 1985 and 2000- from 1,593 to 13,676 adult men and women-more than twice the rate of increase for the entire federal prison population. A major portion of this growth was attributable to changes in federal sentencing law that increased the likelihood of a convicted immigration felony offender receiving a prison sentence - from 57 percent in 1985 to 91 percent in 2000 - in lieu of some lesser sanction. The growth was also the result of increased sentences and time actually served, which increased from about 4 months in 1985 to 21 months in 2000.

The increase in the number of immigration offenders serving time in federal prisons accounted for 14 percent of the overall growth in the federal prison population during the period since 1985. Non-citizens convicted of immigration or other crimes (e.g. drug offenses) accounted for a third of that increase.

Fifty percent of those charged with immigration offenses during 2000 were accused of reentering the country illegally, 25 percent with improper entry, 20 percent for alien smuggling and 5 percent for misusing visas or other immigration offenses. Criminal history played a significant role in the charging decision - more than two-thirds of defendants charged with an immigration offense had a history of previous arrests, 36 percent had 5 or more prior arrests. Sixty-one percent of immigration defendants had a prior conviction history. Overall, ninety-six percent of immigration offense defendants were convicted when prosecuted in the federal courts.

During 2000, about 16,495 men and women referred to U.S. Attorneys were suspected of committing immigration offenses, the BJS special report noted, of which 57 percent were Mexican citizens, 7 percent U.S. citizens, 3 percent Chinese citizens. Eighty-seven percent of the Mexican nationals and 93 percent of the Chinese nationals were charged with illegal entry or reentry. Sixty-four percent of the U.S. citizen defendants were charged with alien smuggling.

Of the 14,540 federal defendants charged with immigration offenses during 2000, 92 percent were male, 87 percent were Hispanic and almost 80 percent were from 21 to 40 years old.

In addition to immigration offenses, U.S. attorneys prosecuted an increased number of non-citizens for other crimes, especially for drug trafficking, which increased from 1,799 cases in 1985 to 7,803 in 2000.

BJS said the people processed through the federal court system did not include aliens whom the INS detains and deports for illegal entry or unlawful residence. During 1999 federal immigration officers removed almost 1.8 million aliens from the U.S. Ninety percent accepted an offer of voluntary deportation, and 10 percent were removed following a formal hearing.

The special report, "Immigration Offenders in the Federal Criminal Justice System, 2000" (NCJ-191745), was written by BJS statisticians Marika F.X. Litras and John Scalia. Single copies may be obtained by calling the BJS Clearinghouse at 1-800-851-3420. In addition, this document can be accessed at:


For further information about the Bureau of Justice Statistics and other OJP programs, please see the OJP website at: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov

Media calls should be directed to Stu Smith in OJP's Office of Congressional and Public Affairs at [email protected] or 202-307-0784. After hours: 301-983-9354.

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Date Published: August 6, 2002