Immigration Crimes Surpass Drugs as Most Common Federal Crime

When one thinks of what constitutes a “federal crime,” it’s easy to conjure up movie-plot scenarios of bank robberies, gun-runners, and drug smuggling. And for years, drug-related crimes did claim the top spot for most common federal crime. But no longer. According to a report obtained first by Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner, immigration violations now rank as the number one federal crime.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Bureau, which compiled the data, “Immigration offenses increased by more than 5,000 cases from the previous year and accounted for the largest single group of federal crime.” That’s a nearly 10 percent increase.

The vast majority of convictions were for unlawful entry or remaining in the United States (21,934), followed by alien smuggling (3,480). Roughly 95 percent received prison sentences of 10 months or more.

The jump in immigration-related federal crimes shouldn’t come as a big surprise. In fact, there were two significant factors, among others, in recent years that indicated such an increase was occurring:

1. Fiscal year 2019 saw a record amount of activity at the United States’ southern border with Mexico, including 852,000 apprehensions. Increases in the number of apprehensions by federal law enforcement will naturally lead to an increase in immigration-related charges for crimes such as illegal re-entry and human smuggling.

2. Since taking office, the Trump administration instituted an increased focus on enforcing immigration laws and seeking out those who are in the country illegally. Because of this, the number of arrests made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers have increased significantly from the final years of the Obama administration. And again, an increase in ICE arrests will naturally lead to an increase in the number of federal convictions for immigration-related offenses.

While it’s encouraging to see law enforcement bringing immigration violators to justice, it comes with a high price tag. In 2017, the Federation for American Immigration Reform estimated that it cost $1.2 billion to incarcerate immigration violators at the federal level. In total, illegal immigrants in the criminal justice system cost U.S. taxpayers an astounding $23 billion at both the state and federal level.

This uptick in federal convictions serve as a reminder that illegal immigration continues to be a serious problem in the United States. The cheapest and most effective way to decrease illegal immigration would be to work on removing the incentives that draw illegal aliens to the United States in the first place.

For example, enacting mandatory E-Verify for employers, along with increasing worksite enforcement of federal hiring laws, would largely remove the single largest incentive: jobs. Coupling these actions with the ongoing focus on enforcing federal immigration laws would go a long way in combating the illegal immigration crisis in this country.

About Author


Spencer joined FAIR in 2015. He oversees the numerous qualitative and quantitative research efforts conducted by FAIR and writes content for publication on FAIR’s website and outside media organizations. Previously, Spencer worked in gubernatorial campaigns and political nonprofits, covered politics at the federal and state levels as a freelance writer, and worked as a legislative aide in the Texas State Legislature. Spencer holds a Master of Science in Data Analytics from Johns Hopkins University and a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the University of Texas at Austin.

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