Foreign-Born Are 21% of DOJ Prisoners; 94% Are Here Illegally

Foreign-Born Are 21% of DOJ Prisoners; 94% Are Here Illegally

Mark Twain once famously maintained it could probably be shown through facts and statistics that there’s “no distinctly American criminal class – except Congress.” What then would that celebrated observer of Gilded Age corruption and criminality make of the facts and statistics recently released by the Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland Security (DHS) in their latest Alien Incarceration Report?

If you haven’t heard of that report, there’s a simple explanation: that data was not even officially required to be collected until about a year ago, when President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 25, 2017, dealing with immigration law enforcement.

The part of that presidential executive order which gathered the most press attention calls for cutting off, wherever possible, federal funds to so-called “sanctuary cities,” localities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts, for example, by refusing to notify federal authorities before releasing inmates from local custody that the federal enforcers are seeking.

But section 16 of the order mandates quarterly reports from DOJ and DHS on the immigration status of aliens in three incarcerated groups: those in Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities, pretrial detainees held by another part of DOJ, the U.S. Marshals Service, and convicts in state prisons and local jails.

The most recent report, issued Dec. 18 and covering the last quarter of Fiscal Year 2017 (July through September 2017), doesn’t supply data on inmates incarcerated by state and local governments even though they make up about 90% of the nation’s total inmates, though the report claims progress is being made on collecting that information. But for the two groups in DOJ custody, the report does provide some rather astonishing figures.

Here’s one: DOJ had 185,507 inmates in its custody and knew or suspected 37,557 of them had been born outside this country. Out of that number, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was able to confirm that 35,334 of those aliens were not only born elsewhere but were also here illegally, i.e. — they were not U.S. citizens, lawful residents or otherwise authorized to be here. ICE is still working to confirm the immigration status of 21,209 other foreign-born individuals in DOJ custody.

And here’s another: Among foreign-born people in DOJ custody, 92% of those in BOP facilities were found to be unlawfully present in this country, and 97% of the pretrial detainees being held by the Marshals Service identified as born outside the U.S. were similarly confirmed by ICE as being here unlawfully. So altogether, 94% of foreign-born persons being held by the DOJ and 21% of all inmates in DOJ custody were reported to be here illegally. That’s well above the estimated 13.5% of people living in the U.S. who were born abroad, and the lesser share of them not here legally.

Setting the stage for a likely fight in Congress next year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pointed to the report’s figures as showing U.S. citizens were “being victimized by illegal aliens who commit crimes,” especially drug-related offenses. He called on Congress to enact the Trump Administration’s proposals for immigration reform so that the nation can “start welcoming the best and brightest” while also “turning away drug dealers, gang members, and other criminals.”

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Christopher Zoukis is an outspoken prisoner rights and correctional education advocate who was incarcerated at FCI Petersburg Medium in Virginia. He is an award-winning writer whose work has been published widely in major publications such as The Huffington Post, Prison Legal News, New York Daily News, and various other print and online publications. Learn more about Christopher Zoukis at and