Justice Department to hire more prosecutors for border areas
By Tim Korte
4:20 p.m. July 31, 2006
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Attorney General Alberto Gonzales outlined plans Monday to add 20 new federal prosecutors to handle immigration related offenses and five others who will target drug trafficking in states along the border with Mexico.
“We've heard the cries of our U.S. attorneys, who tell us they need additional resources,” Gonzales said during a news conference at the U.S. attorney's office in Albuquerque.
Gonzales also challenged Congress to keep the money coming, saying comprehensive immigration reform will require more judges, marshals and bed space to fully secure the border.
“We need to ensure that as we increase our efforts on the front end of the process that we also have the ability at the back end to prosecute these folks,” he said.
The $2 million supplemental funding will help federal authorities assign prosecutors for border areas of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to address human smuggling, illegal entry into the United States and document fraud. They also will target employers who hire undocumented immigrants.
Five additional prosecutors – one in each of the five federal law enforcement districts along the border – will be assigned under the Justice Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. They will target drug trafficking organizations.
“There is some correlation,” Gonzales said. “Obviously, smuggling occurs in connection with illegal immigration. Also, there is a serious drug trafficking problem on our southern border.”
Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security will identify lawyers who will be designated as special assistant U.S. attorneys, responsible for prosecuting immigration offenses.
The U.S. attorney in each of the districts along the border will determine the best ways to specifically allocate the new prosecutors.
Gonzales said over the past six years, the Justice Department has boosted the number of federal prosecutors along the Mexican border by 29 percent, to 561.
During the same span, he said immigration prosecutions have increased about 40 percent, and that about 30 percent of all new criminal cases involve immigration crimes.
That makes immigration the largest category of cases addressed by federal prosecutors. Gonzales said last year, more than 95 percent of immigration prosecutions led to convictions.
During an earlier visit to Santa Fe, Gonzales said the Bush administration remains hopeful that Congress, despite election year pressures, will agree on comprehensive immigration legislation this year.
“I wouldn't say that we've given up. Quite the contrary,” Gonzales said.
Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat and the nation's only Hispanic governor, expressed support for legislation that offers a path to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States. Comprehensive legislation also should include additional resources, such as more agents and electronic sensors to tighten border security.
Gonzales agreed those were important elements for legislation but said the administration hasn't endorsed a specific measure in Congress.
Richardson and Gonzales also addressed a conference of the National District Attorneys Association. Gonzales, in his speech, focused on federal efforts to crack down on the exploitation and abuse of children by sexual predators using the Internet.
Richardson told the prosecutors he was worried Congress wouldn't act on immigration legislation this year because of election year divisions.