The Texas Republican, whose district includes parts of Houston, submitted a document containing the data for the record at a Wednesday hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. The hearing focused on the budget for CBP.
Culberson gave CNSNews.com a copy of the document, which contains prosecution rate figures for illegal aliens apprehended by CBP between FY2007 and FY2011.
According to figures made public by CBP, 327,577 illegal aliens were caught along the southwest border during fiscal year 2011 (Oct. 1, 2010 thru Sept. 30, 2011).
Of those 327,577, only 74,975 (about 22.9 percent) were prosecuted, according to Justice Department data obtained by Culberson, while 252,602 (77.1 percent) were not prosecuted.
Culberson said during the hearing that those who were not prosecuted were “home in time for dinner.”
The Texas congressman said the prosecution numbers came from U.S. Attorney offices along the southwest border. The Department of Justice (DOJ), which oversees the U.S. Attorneys, does not publicize the data on prosecutions of aliens arrested by CBP, but Culberson said during the hearing that his office verified the figures with both DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees CBP.
He also provided a copy of the document to U.S. Border Patrol chief Michael Fisher, who testified at the hearing. Fisher did not dispute the accuracy of the data. Border Patrol is a component of CBP.
The prosecution rate was higher in FY2011 than in the previous fiscal year, when of 447,731 aliens taken into custody, only 16.4 percent (73,263) were prosecuted, leaving 374,468 who did not face any legal repercussions.
According to the data compiled by Culberson’s office, the prosecution rate has increased each year since FY2007, when it stood at 3.9 percent. In FY2008, the rate was 8.5 percent and it increased to 11.1 percent the following year.
The approximately 2,000-mile long U.S.-Mexico border has been divided by DHS into nine Border Patrol sectors. They run from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf cost in the following order: San Diego, El Centro, Yuma, Tucson, El Paso, Marfa, Del Rio, Laredo, and Rio Grande.
The busiest sector for illegal crossings in FY 2011 was Tucson in Arizona. Of the 123,385 illegals apprehended there last year, only 32,703 (26.5 percent) were prosecuted.
The highest prosecution to apprehension ratio during the year was recorded in El Paso sector, where 66.7 percent of those caught (6,906 out of 10,345) were prosecuted. At the other end of the scale, only 3.9 percent of those apprehended in El Centro sector (1,197 out of 30,191) were prosecuted (see graph).
“God bless the Border Patrol for their efforts, but no matter how hard they try if the Department of Justice will not prosecute, all the Border Patrol agents on the border in the world won’t make a bit of difference,” Culberson told CNSNews.com after the hearing.
“The prosecution rate is the key to border security and in the El Paso and Del Rio sectors, the prosecution rate is near 60 percent and as a result, there are virtually no border crossings,” he said.
“I’m working on ways to help the prosecutors, the judges, the [U.S.] Marshals, [and] the Border Patrol raise that prosecution rate from Brownsville to San Diego so we have near-zero tolerance for illegal crossers on the southern border,” Culberson said.
“As a result the border communities will be safer, the nation will be safer, our laws will be respected, and then we can actually solve the problem of guest workers – because we’ve got to have a guest worker program, but first you got to secure the border.”
During the hearing, Culberson asked Border Patrol chief Fisher whether the low prosecution rate was a “real problem.”
“It’s challenging in some judicial districts,” he replied, but added later that he “wouldn’t characterize it” as a problem “across the southwest border.”
“When you look at prosecution in and of themselves, I would not agree that just increasing prosecutions in these other judicial districts – even if we were able to – would be the right approach, for a variety of reasons none of which I’ll go into now just for the sake of time,” Fisher testified.
“It’s not necessarily the consequence that’s going to give us the operational effect we’re looking for,” he said.
Under existing law an individual caught trying to illegally cross the border can be incarcerated for up to six months, although that is not always the case, according to Fisher.
At the busiest Border Patrol sector along the southwest border, he said, the average time served for an individual who is prosecuted by DOJ is “generally two to three days.”