Last year, Arizona was ranked number one for the highest number of criminal immigration prosecutions in the country. However, reporting now shows a sharp decrease in the amount of these prosecutions in the state. In fact, immigration prosecution in Arizona dropped by nearly 22% and we now rank number three.
Even with this significant decrease, there is still a high number of immigration prosecutions here in Arizona. Specifically, these prosecutions are related to immigrants having entered the country illegally and immigrants that have reentered after having been deported. In fact, although Arizona now ranks number three with 21,163 immigration prosecutions, the next in line, New Mexico only reported 5,999.
So, while Arizona still outnumbers the majority of the other districts, what caused the decline? While news outlets debate the reason for this decline, it is possible that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has made a deliberate effort to reallocate its resources toward the prosecution on non-immigration related crimes.
Another possible reason for this decrease could be due to the revisions related the discretion given to local prosecutors. Back in 2010, the Obama Administration called for an increased amount of consideration to be given to prosecutorial discretion regarding immigration crimes. Although, up until this year, there has been no significant change in the report - leading me to believe that these revisions weren't actually the catalyst for the decline.
In general terms, the concept was that prosecutors would continue to actively go after immigration offenders that were considered to be dangerous and potentially scale back its efforts on those immigration related crimes that were less aggressive or threatening.
While some agencies may have taken this new concept to heart, it is pretty clear that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) did not. Since 2010, ICE has continued to bring action against individuals that were not deemed a threat or posed any danger. In fact, ICE consistently prosecuted those that were primary caregivers to young children and even victims of domestic violence.
The prosecutorial discretion reform concept is made even more clear when you consider studies such as this one presented by Syracuse University. It is almost comical the immense gap between Arizona and the next highest ranking district. However, this most recent decrease in immigration prosecutions shows that the tide may be turning. This is especially true because the decrease was so substantial.
So, depending on which side of the argument you are on, this decrease may mean that immigration reform may actually have a chance here in Arizona or you may see this decrease as just a small dent in an otherwise overwhelmingly broken system. Of course, this report comes on the heels of many demanding for a decision from the government on immigration reform before the end of this legislative year. This proposed immigration reform includes increased border security, an arguably clearer path towards citizenship for many, and a revised visa system.
Since it is more than likely that the proposed immigration reform measure will not be decided on this year, Arizona advocates for immigration reform may have to settle for the small victories. This decrease in immigration prosecution could very well be one of those small victories.