Government Shutdown Slowed Border Prosecutions

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SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 03: A U.S. Border Patrol agent speaks to Mexican citizens through the U.S.-Mexico border fence next to the Pacific Ocean on October 3, 2013 in San Diego, California. While hundreds of thousands of government workers were furloughed this week, thousands of Border Patrol agents, air-traffic controllers, prison guards and other federal employees deemed 'essential' remain on duty, although their pay may be delayed. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) | Getty File

SAN DIEGO -- SAN DIEGO (AP) — The top federal prosecutor in San Diego said prosecutions of immigrant and drug smuggling offenses would be fully restored Friday, three days after they were curtailed in response to the federal government shutdown.

Laura Duffy, the U.S. attorney in San Diego, said late Thursday that prosecutions would return to normal after the Justice Department agreed restore staff.

A U.S. official told The Associated Press that Duffy's office issued guidelines Monday that immigrant smuggling cases would only be prosecuted only if they involved death or serious injury and non-marijuana drug smuggling cases would not be prosecuted if a suspect had a "border crossing card," which arevisas issued to Mexicans living in border regions to allow short visits. Marijuana cases were not to be prosecuted at all.

Felony prosecutions for re-entering the United States after deportation were accepted only for suspects previously convicted of a violent crime under the guidelines, which took effect when the shutdown began Tuesday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because prosecution guidelines are not public.

The guidelines were strengthened Wednesday to drop the requirement that the smuggling offense involve death or serious injury to instead be reviewed case by case, the official said. Felony prosecutions for re-entering the country after deportation were to be accepted for suspects with at least two felony convictions, even if they were non-violent.

Duffy, in response to a request for comment, said in a statement, "Our initial contingency plan was not going to allow us to maintain our regular intake of criminal cases so we sought and received authorization from DOJ to exempt more of our criminal division staff from furloughs. As a result, tomorrow we are back to normal intake."

The guidelines were issued for the Southern District of California, which spans the border with Mexico from the Pacific Ocean to the Arizona state line. It was unclear if they applied to other jurisdictions along the nation's northern and southern borders, including Arizona and Texas, which see the heaviest amount of immigration traffic.

U.S. attorney offices issue guidelines to immigration enforcement agencies like the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection's office of field operations, which oversees ports of entry. They are intended to give investigators a handle on which cases are most likely to be accepted for prosecution.

Southern California filed the third highest number of immigration-related prosecutions among the nation's 94 district courts in July, trailing only Southern and Western Texas, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which analyzes federal data. New Mexico and Arizona rounded out the top five.

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