SANTA FE, N.M. — Federal immigration prosecutions in New Mexico posted the biggest percentage increase of any of the nation's 94 judicial districts during the first 11 months of the federal fiscal year, a new report shows.
Prosecutions in the state's federal judicial district jumped by 46 percent from the previous period. The state is on pace to post its highest number of immigration prosecutions since tracking began in 1986.
Meanwhile, prosecutions fell in Arizona by 22 percent and by 13 percent in the Southern District of California.
There were 5,999 prosecutions in New Mexico through the end of August. The federal fiscal year ended Oct. 1.
The report was compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a nonpartisan center based at Syracuse University that tracks federal government enforcement activities.
The numbers don't necessarily mean more immigrants are coming through New Mexico.
When an immigrant is caught entering the United States illegally in New Mexico, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol classifies the person as entering through the El Paso sector. It's then up to the Office of the U.S. Attorney to determine how and where it wants to prosecute.
Clearinghouse co-director Sue Long told the Santa Fe New Mexican (http://bit.ly/17Vlzcw) in a story Wednesday that prosecutions were up nationally but she was surprised by the big increase in New Mexico.
"What was surprising was how different the patterns were, particularly in New Mexico because it had been declining for years and then it shot up," Long said.
New Mexico ranked fourth overall in total immigration prosecutions, behind the Southern District of Texas (Houston) with 31,000, the Western District of Texas (San Antonio) with 22,970, and Arizona with 21,000, according to the report.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in New Mexico told the newspaper it couldn't immediately comment on the data, and the Federal Public Defender Organization for New Mexico didn't immediately return a phone call.
The report showed a total of 90,806 immigration prosecutions were registered nationally, and it predicts that at that pace, up to 99,000 prosecutions will be reported by the end of the fiscal year, about a 7.7 percent increase.
The percentage increase in New Mexico surprised some immigrant rights groups that have considered the state immigrant-friendly.
Marcela Diaz, an organizer with Somos Un Pueblo Unido, an immigrant workers rights group, said it was surprising to find that Arizona's percentage declined while New Mexico's percentage increased dramatically.
"Basically, they're continuing to criminalize immigration," she told the New Mexican. "We can't stress enough that what the federal government likes to call criminal aliens are family members who are contributing to our economy, and they're being criminalized."
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the lead investigative agency in the cases, contributed 95 percent of the total number of cases in New Mexico, according to the report.
Long said immigration enforcement agencies such as Customs and Border Patrol have received more funding and staffing under the Obama administration, which could explain the increase in cases. She added that if an immigrant is found guilty of the criminal charges, the person could be deported.