Texas Federal Judge Questions Illegal Re-entry Prosecutions
I often talk to friends, family members, even law school classmates who don’t realize that “illegal re-entry” is one of the most commonly prosecuted federal crimes. It’s an easy enough crime to prosecute — you basically just have to prove the defendant (1) exists (2) in the United States (3) and has been previously deported — but it’s costly on the back end: Offenders stay in federal prison at taxpayer expense for months or even years, at the end of which they’re just going to get deported again.
So, you might ask, why not just deport them in the first place? Good question. A fed-up federal judge in Austin wants to know, too:
In an order filed Friday, a federal judge in Austin questioned U.S. prosecutors for seeking criminal convictions in court against some illegal immigrants, writing that the practice “presents a cost to the American taxpayer … that is neither meritorious nor reasonable.”
The order by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks comes as his docket, like others in Texas, is swollen with defendants charged with immigration crimes.
Most of those prosecuted in Austin have been identified by immigration officers at the Travis County Jail and charged with illegal entry after deportation.
Many of those defendants have no significant criminal history and until a change in enforcement strategy about two years ago would have been deported and not prosecuted.
Sparks entered the order in the cases against three Mexican citizens who have previously been deported and who returned to the United States without permission.
Last fall each was found in the Travis County Jail and charged with illegal re-entry.
The men all pleaded guilty and were sentenced Thursday by Sparks to the time they had already served and are being deported.
On Friday, Sparks wrote in the order that “like many of the defendants prosecuted under the (federal illegal re-entry law) in the last six months” the men “have no significant criminal history.”
Sparks wrote that it has cost more than $13,350 to jail the three men and noted that charging them criminally means additional costs and work for prosecutors, defense lawyers, court personnel and others.
“The expenses of prosecuting illegal entry and re-entry cases (rather than deportation) on aliens without any significant criminal history is simply mind-boggling,” Sparks wrote.
He said the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case could not state “a reason that these three defendants were prosecuted rather than simply removing them from the United States.”