A sharp rise in drug smuggling in border states like Texas has led to a surge in federal apprehensions, and most of the people being taken into custody by federal agents are not United States citizens. A report released on Aug. 22 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics reveals that narcotics arrests now account for two-thirds of the federal apprehensions in the Southern District of Texas, the Western District of Texas, the Southern District of California, the District of New Mexico and the District of Arizona. That figure stood at 33% in 1998.
Non-U.S. citizens now account for 64% of federal arrests despite making up just 7% of the overall population. Many non-citizens taken into custody by federal agents are immigrants from Central America who entered the United States illegally. In 1998, 1,171 Central Americans were arrested by federal agents. By 2018, that figure had climbed to 35,590.
However, few immigrants are prosecuted when they are caught entering the country illegally for the first time. This kind of prosecution accounted for only 0.3% percent of the federal cases involving non-citizens in 2018. Subsequent illegal border crossings are far more likely to lead to criminal proceedings. Almost three-quarters of the non-citizens prosecutions in federal courts in 2018 were for illegal re-entry. Other federal crimes that non-citizens are frequently prosecuted for include narcotics offenses, identity theft and document fraud.
The vast majority of federal charges are resolved at the negotiating table. Prosecutors generally seek indictments only when they have compelling cases, but they may still make generous plea offers to avoid expensive and risky jury trials. Experienced criminal defense attorneys may suggest accepting such an offer to avoid mandatory minimum sentences when the evidence against their clients is strong. However, they could argue the facts before a jury if their clients maintain their innocence and choose to go to trial.