Federal prosecutions of immigration offenses jumped 46 percent in New Mexico in the first of 11 months of fiscal year 2013, the fastest growth of any of the nation's 94 judicial districts, a new report shows.
New Mexico's federal judicial district recorded 5,999 criminal immigration prosecutions through the end of August, the latest data available, according to the report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a nonpartisan center based at Syracuse University that tracks federal government enforcement activities.
Reasons for the increase were not immediately clear. Immigration prosecutions across the nation have risen sharply during the Obama administration. But New Mexico had seen declines the previous three years.
At the current pace, the center projects the district will have prosecuted an estimated 6,544 cases by the end of the federal fiscal year, which ended September 30 -- more than at any time since at least 1986, the earliest numbers available. U.S. Justice Department data for September were not yet available.
"It's not surprising that immigration prosecutions are up," said Sue Long, a co-author of the report and a statistics professor at Syracuse University. "What was surprising was how different the patterns were ...particularly in New Mexico because it had been declining for years and then it shot up."
New Mexico ranked fourth overall in total immigration prosecutions, behind the Southern District of Texas (Houston) with 31,000, the Western District of Texas (San Antonio) with 22,970, and Arizona with 21,000, according to the report.
The increase in New Mexico came as two other districts bordering Mexico fell. Arizona saw the nation's biggest drop, with 22 percent fewer prosecutions, and the Southern District of California saw a 13 percent decrease.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in New Mexico said it couldn't immediately comment on the data, and the Federal Public Defender Organization for New Mexico didn't immediately return a phone call.
The numbers don't necessarily mean more undocumented immigrants are coming through New Mexico.
When an immigrant is caught entering the United States illegally in New Mexico, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol classifies the person as entering through the El Paso sector. Long said it's up to the Office of the U.S. Attorney to determine how and where it wants to prosecute.
The lead charges against the immigrants in New Mexico's judicial district are re-entry of a deportee, with 2,974 charges, and illegal entry, with 2,822, according to TRAC's report. Nationwide, illegal entry was the top charge, with 50,683 recorded prosecutions, the report states.
A total of 90,806 immigration prosecutions have been registered nationally so far, and the report predicts that at that pace, up to 99,000 prosecutions will be reported by the end of the fiscal year, about a 7.7 percent increase.
The percentage increase in New Mexico surprised some immigrant rights groups that have considered the state immigrant friendly.
Juan Carlos Deoses, a leader with New Mexico Dreamers in Action, a group advocating for immigration reform, said it's shocking to know New Mexico had the fastest growth in criminal immigration prosecutions.
Marcela Diaz, an organizer with Somos Un Pueblo Unido, an immigrant workers rights group, said it was surprising to find that Arizona's percentage declined while New Mexico's percentage increased dramatically.
"Basically, they're continuing to criminalize immigration," she said. "We can't stress enough that what the federal government likes to call criminal aliens are family members who are contributing to our economy, and they're being criminalized."
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the lead investigative agency in the criminal immigration prosecutions, contributed 95 percent of the total number of cases in New Mexico, according to the report.
Long said immigration enforcement agencies such as Customs and Border Patrol have received more funding and staffing under the Obama administration, which could explain the increase in cases. She added that if an immigrant is found guilty of the criminal charges, he or she could be deported.
Contact Uriel J. Garcia at 986-3062 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ujohnnyg.
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Distributed by MCT Information Services
Original headline: Immigrant charges spike in New Mexico
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