Despite Utah’s distance from the U.S.-Mexico border, federal prosecutors in the state convict more people of immigration-related crimes than any other U.S. attorney’s office in the interior of the country, according to court statistics.
Utah ranked ninth in immigration prosecutions during the first seven months of fiscal year 2018 with 125 cases filed in the U.S. District Court for Utah, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a Syracuse University that analyzes immigration prosecutions and other federal statistics. Most of those criminal cases involve so-called “illegal re-entry,” a previously deported immigrant who is caught back in the country without legal authority.
The Beehive State has remained in the top 10 for at least the last five years, behind border states like Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, whose caseloads number into the thousands.
“We don’t go after people who don’t deserve it. We go after criminals,” U.S. Attorney John Huber said in an interview.
Huber’s office handled close to 300 immigration cases in 2017, and has averaged more than 250 a year over the last decade, according to federal court statistics.
“Ninety percent plus of them are found in our jails,” Huber said of the cases his office pursues. “They’ve already been deported from the United States at least once, and now they’re back and they’ve committed crimes.”
Nationally, immigration prosecutions over the past year are up, but still much lower than they were five years ago.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made immigration enforcement a cornerstone of the Trump administration’s focus on violent crime. Linking immigration to crime has drawn criticism from Democrats and some academics who point to studies that show immigrants are no more prone to crime than born citizens.
The Department of Justice is hiring nearly three dozen new immigration prosecutors to bolster its efforts, with two going to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah.
In an April 2017 announcement, Sessions instructed the Justice Department to make criminal immigration enforcement a priority. Huber said the Department of Justice has directed U.S. attorneys to make immigration enforcement an even more concerted project and priority.
“This will enable us to get past these re-entry cases — 300 a year — so we want to get into the more serious issues of human trafficking [and] immigration-fraud issues,” he said of the new hires. “This should get us to a more indepth and higher level of analysis and investigation in Utah on immigration crime issues.”