Trump Administration Ends First-Time Border Crosser Prosecutions

March 28, 2019, 12:44 PM UTC

A key tool for the Trump administration’s policy toward illegal immigration at the southern border has been the prosecution of first-time offenders. But it’s now out of the question along a part of West Texas that saw heavy crossing attempts.

There’s no room left in jails to house those charged, the Wall Street Journal reported. The previously unreported change in policy began in February 2019. Instead of being arrested, people are being immediately deported without charge.

The U.S. Border Patrol—the uniformed law-enforcement arm of Customs and Border Protection—had been charging single adults attempting to cross with misdemeanor offenses that could warrant at most a few months of jail time or a fine of between $50 and $250. If the person attempted to reenter, the previous conviction would mean the person now faced a felony conviction that could run as long as ten years, according to the Department of Justice.

Earlier in March, officials in the Rio Grande Valley stopped sending some illegally crossing families to jail because of crowding and safety concerns. There are no indications that misdemeanor prosecutions have slowed at other parts of the border.

Prosecutions also bolstered the number of claimed “criminals” coming over the border, as data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement show. Immigration was the fourth highest category, at 63,166 charges in 2018 (one person could face multiple legal charges). DUI and other traffic offenses together made up 156,934 charges and drugs, whether use, trafficking, or some other aspect, was 76,585.

CBP figures show that border apprehensions in fiscal year 2019, which officially started in October 2018, are significantly up from recent years. But the reason could be changing levels of enforcement or differences in policy.