Federal prosecutions soared in the 2009 fiscal year, reaching a record high of 169,612.
The 9 percent increase over the previous year was driven by cases filed against immigration violators, according to Justice Department data analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Immigration prosecutions shot up 15.7 percent, and amounted to more than half of all criminal cases brought by the federal government.
Meanwhile, drug, weapons and white-collar cases were up only slightly or declined.
Experts told The New York Times the jump stems from efforts during the Bush administration to step up immigration enforcement and expedite prosecutions. In addition to increasing the number of Border Patrol agents, the Bush administration launched Operation Streamline, which promoted mass processing of plea deals in immigrant cases. The Obama administration has continued the policy. The Obama administration was in power for more than two-thirds of fiscal 2009.
Immigration cases are disposed of in an average of two days, and they are rarely turned down by prosecutors. White-collar cases typically linger for about 460 days, and prosecutors reject about half those referred to them by law enforcement agencies.
In Arizona, where nearly a quarter of the immigration cases were processed, Operation Streamline has run into trouble. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over the state, recently held that the process of mass pleadings violates the federal rule that shields defendants from being coerced into a guilty plea, according to the Times.
Arizona is also home to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose tough enforcement of immigration laws have led to the arrest of thousands of illegal immigrants. He has been accused of unfairly targeting Latinos in his crime sweeps, traffic stops and immigration raids. Arpaio denies wrongdoing, saying his officers are simply enforcing the law.
The Justice Department has set up a telephone tip-line as part an investigation of Arpaio, known as “Sheriff Joe.”
Click here for the full NYT story, and click here for a summary of TRAC’s findings.