In Wake of Executive Action, Focus Falls on Arrests for Immigration Offenses

In November, President Obama announced that he was taking executive action to defer the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants. His decision may have set a new direction for immigration policy in the United States. And if it is allowed to stand, it will be interesting to see how the president’s measures impacts federal law enforcement efforts to deal with immigration offenses.

Judging by the most recent available statistics, any departure from current policy on deportations would be significant. The latest Justice Department analysis shows that immigration offenses made up almost exactly half of all federal arrests made in 2012. More specifically, out of a total of 172,248 suspects who were arrested for a federal offense, 85,458 (or 49.6 percent) were booked for immigration offenses, such as illegal entry, illegal re-entry, alien smuggling and visa fraud.

The newest, preliminary data suggest that the pace of arrests did not slow in either 2013 or 2014. Indeed, the newer figures show that arrests for illegal entry and illegal re-entry picked up over the last two years. The number of arrests for immigration offenses have been on a steady upward trajectory since 8,777 federal immigration arrests were recorded in 1994. And the previous high was set in 2009, when 84,749 people were booked.

According to the philosophy that the White House shared when the president announced his executive action on immigration, the administration would be targeting “felons, not families” for deportation, shielding up to five million undocumented immigrants from an expedited exit from the United States. And it is probably safe to say that those who would be considered families are heavily concentrated among the 60 percent of undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for 10 years or longer.

If put into action, the decision to defer deportations could translate into a measurable drop in federal convictions. Immigration offenses have fueled the bulk of growth in the total number of felons sentenced in courts — 48 percent, as opposed to the second leading contributing factor, convictions for drug offenses, which were responsible for 22 percent of the growth.

But a significant drop in in the number of deportation proceedings could have perhaps its biggest and most beneficial impact on the Treasury. Estimates claim that it costs $8,318 to deport an immigrant. Multiply that figure by the conservative number of four million undocumented immigrants whose deportation would be deferred under the president’s measures, and one would be talking about some serious savings — $33.272 billion, to be exact.

And going one major step further, if none of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants were deported from the United States, the country would save $91.498 billion, which is quite a tidy sum, indeed.

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