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A third of Wyoming's federal prosecutions last year involved people who illegally immigrated here from Mexico or Central America.
CHEYENNE - Illegal immigration re-entry cases tripled in Wyoming from 2008 to last year and increased nearly tenfold from a decade ago.
Illegal immigration accounted for a third of federal prosecutions in Wyoming in 2009, a year in which there were more criminal cases in the U.S. District Court in Wyoming than in the past decade.
Many of the illegal immigration cases come out of Teton County, those involved with the federal system said.
The majority of cases involved Mexican nationals who are found working in a gamut of jobs, a federal public defender said.
Some are involved in criminal activity, while others have lived in the United States for 15 years and have families.
And while economics plays a role in Wyoming's situation and possibly a national trend, additional immigration enforcement staff at local offices could account greatly for the increase.
How the system works
Carl Rusnok, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman, called re-entry a serious offense.
"If they had originally been deported because they committed an aggravated felony, the prosecution of their re-entry can be up to 20 years in prison," Rusnok said.
There are several programs that ICE, an agency that falls under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, uses to crack down on illegal immigrants.
Through these programs, and local law enforcement agencies running suspects through ICE databases, agents can find illegal immigrants and present cases for prosecution.
"Any means that we have of encountering aliens that are illegally in the country, we can, using our databases, identify those people who have already been deported, and then we can present those cases for prosecution," Rusnok said.
Massive firings in Brewster, and a big debate about illegal immigration
Obama shift to audits
What happened at Gebbers reflects a change in strategy under President Obama's administration, which is shifting ICE's focus away from targeting illegal immigrants and instead focusing on those who hire them.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors tougher enforcement, sees Obama scaling back efforts to crack down on illegal immigration by emphasizing audits instead of workplace raids.
Immigrant-rights advocates call audits the more humane of the two approaches.
"This is not to say this new approach does not create hardship," says Matt Adams, legal adviser for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle. "But I think if the government is going to enforce the laws that are on the books, they should be given credit for doing it in a way that is not tearing families apart."
Thirty-three Washington companies were audited last year, and ICE spokeswoman Dankers says employers can expect more to come.
"We know that changing the behavior of employers to ensure they hire a legal work force doesn't happen overnight," she says. "We want employers to know that regardless of size and industry or your location and the type of business you have, the federal government expects these businesses to comply with the law."
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