With the end of the fiscal year, federal agencies have begun publishing their annual reports, including reports on the number of aliens in federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) custody in FY 2019, and final workload totals from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for FY 2020. One theme runs through each — drugs — and the ties between immigration and the drug trade.
First, BOP, which is a component of the Department of Justice (DOJ). In accordance with Executive Order 13768, "Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States", DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are required to provide reports on the number of aliens in the custody of BOP, the U.S. Marshals Service, and in state prisons and local detention throughout the United States.
The resulting report is captioned "Alien Incarceration Report, Fiscal Year 2019", and it is broken down into quarterly totals. With respect to non-federal prisoners and detainees, the report notes: "The lack of comprehensive data on this topic is a noteworthy limitation of this report because state and local facilities account for approximately 90 percent of the total U.S. incarcerated population."
This coincides with a statement that I often make: No one really knows how many aliens — let alone illegal aliens — have committed crimes, because there is a dearth of data on the immigration status of criminal aliens. But all criminal aliens have committed crimes, by definition, and, in general, re-offend.
Based strictly on the BOP population, however, the statistics are staggering. Looking just at the fourth-quarter data, at the end of that quarter, 27,494 known or suspected aliens were in BOP custody. By way of comparison, as of October 15, 2020, there were a total of 125,905 inmates in BOP custody and an additional 14,013 federal inmates in privately managed facilities, as well as 15,115 federal inmates in other types of facilities (mostly on home confinement and in residential reentry centers, i.e. "halfway houses").
Of the number of known or suspected aliens in BOP custody, 72 percent were confirmed to have no immigration status, including 61.7 percent who had been ordered removed, and 10.2 percent who were in removal proceedings. Three percent were here legally and in removal proceedings, and 2.8 percent had been granted relief or protection.
Of the known or suspected aliens in BOP custody at the end of the fourth quarter of FY 2019 with criminal convictions (a small number were in pre-trial detention), more than half (13,727) had committed drug trafficking or other drug-related offenses. Another 5.1 percent had committed fraud and 4 percent committed weapons offenses. Racketeering and continuing criminal enterprise offenses (including murder for hire) were the main offenses committed by an additional 3.7 percent. Sex offenders made up an additional 2 percent.
Just 31 percent were in for immigration-related offenses, such as alien smuggling or illegal reentry after deportation. It is important to note that this would likely not include many (if any) aliens who had been arrested for illegal entry as a first offense under section 275 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a misdemeanor for which aliens are usually given time served (meaning that they would never come into BOP custody).
Given that most crimes are prosecuted at the state and local levels, the fact that these individuals were serving federal time means that their offenses were particularly serious. This is especially true of the known or suspected aliens with drug convictions. You don't end up in U.S. Penitentiary Allenwood because you got caught on a street corner in Altoona with a nickel bag of dope.
Which brings me to the CBP statistics. In FY 2020, Border Patrol seized 809 pounds of the incredibly lethal narcotic fentanyl, a 258 percent increase over FY 2019 (when agents seized 226 pounds of the drug). As CDC has reported: "Deaths involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl are on the rise." Border Patrol is doing its part to reverse this trend.
Methamphetamine seizures by Border Patrol were also up year-to-year by 44 percent (20,795 pounds as compared to 14,434 pounds), as were cocaine seizures, by 31 percent (15,360 pounds vs. 11,682 pounds).
As I explained in a September post, these increases in drug seizures are likely (at least in part) a function of the fact that, with fewer aliens entering illegally in FY 2020 (400,651 alien apprehensions along the Southwest border, compared to 851,508 in FY 2019), Border Patrol agents were better able to nab smugglers.
Such seizures likely also explain why such a large number of known or suspected aliens in BOP custody have drug convictions. Get caught dealing fentanyl on the streets of Baltimore (which had 692 opioid-related deaths in 2017), you will go to the city jail or state prison (assuming your case doesn't get dropped). Get caught hauling meth over the Southwest border, and you are looking at federal time (and likely to get it).
None of this is to say that aliens are more likely to use or sell drugs within the United States than the general population as a whole. But, of the aliens who end up in federal prison, most have committed some pretty serious drug offenses. And the border is at least one conduit by which those drugs reach the streets of this country to begin with.
Remember — for as good as CBP generally and the Border Patrol, in particular, are at catching drug smugglers, they can't stop them all. More and better barriers along the border would help, but that is an argument for another day.