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Criminal immigration prosecutions rise dramatically in NM

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LAS CRUCES – Following a spike in apprehensions by the Border Patrol, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Mexico increased criminal immigration prosecutions by nearly 46 percent in fiscal year 2013, the fastest rise among the country’s 94 judicial districts.

Contrary to a long-term trend of falling apprehensions by federal agents at the southern border, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque said the number of people caught on immigration offenses has jumped during recent months. By Thursday evening, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection had not provided most recent data on apprehensions this year, and federal prosecutors would not provide the Customs and Border Protection figures it receives on apprehensions.

U.S. attorneys prosecuted 5,999 people for immigration offenses in New Mexico during the first 11 months of fiscal 2013, according to a report by the nonpartisan Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which collects data on border security efforts.

The TRAC report provided the percentage increase and this year’s number, but did not include the number from last year upon which the percentage increase was based. The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not provide numbers of prosecutions for either year.

“Although the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico cannot vouch for TRAC’s methodology, it acknowledges a significant increase in the number of immigration cases it prosecuted during fiscal year 2013 as compared with fiscal year 2012,” the office said in a statement.

While New Mexico prosecutions represent a slim piece of the total 90,806 immigration prosecutions nationwide, the state registered the greatest year-over-year rise in the country, according to TRAC. Nationwide, prosecutions fell slightly from 91,941 in fiscal 2012.

U.S. District Judge Robert Brack in Las Cruces reviews the felony cases in which a defendant has been arrested for entering the country illegally more than once.

“I know that my felony re-entry docket was significantly increased this year, but I’m not sure what all the drivers are,” he said.

Looking at the numbers over the past decade, Brack noted “there has been a huge reduction in apprehensions, but our (the federal court in Las Cruces) numbers increased because the numbers of prosecutions increased. Because only about 2 to 3 percent of the people apprehended were prosecuted (a decade ago) and now it’s about 90 or 100 percent. That’s how the dynamic has changed dramatically.”

Apprehensions in the El Paso sector, which includes New Mexico, fell in fiscal 2012 to 9,678 from 94,152 in fiscal 2002, according to Customs and Border Protection.

Analysts say the U.S. economic recession and increased border security, as well as violence on the Mexican side of the border, deterred many would-be crossers in recent years, while greater prosperity in parts of Mexico encouraged some to seek opportunities at home.

While criminal immigration prosecutions also rose in the southern and western districts of Texas, the number of prosecutions fell nearly 22 percent in Arizona, according to the TRAC report.

Customs led investigations on more than two-thirds of New Mexico criminal immigration prosecutions, according to the TRAC study.

When prosecutions tick up the way New Mexico’s have, “usually it’s a change in policy,” said Susan Long, a statistician and co-director of TRAC. “This is a big shift for New Mexico.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Mexico in its statement said it has not changed its practices.

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