TUCSON - Dozens of new federal prosecutor positions are being created in states bordering Mexico to beef up prosecutions of suspected drug and human smugglers, gun runners and illegal immigrants, the Justice Department said Thursday.
Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip announced the 64 new assistant U.S. attorney posts during a visit to southern Arizona that also included a helicopter tour along the border and a stop at the port of entry in Nogales.
Arizona will get 21 new prosecutors. California will receive seven, New Mexico seven and Texas 29, said Filip, who noted that the additions were "targeted resources requested by each district."
Arizona currently has 133 assistant U.S. attorneys.
The Justice Department is allocating an additional $7 million to pay for the prosecutors and new support staff. The funds are available immediately and for the next two years.
The Justice Department has requested an additional $100 million in its fiscal 2009 budget to help fight criminal activity along the border, Filip said.
The U.S. attorneys in the five affected border judicial districts "will have substantial flexibility to devote those resources to the most pressing law enforcement needs in their districts," he said.
"There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problems faced along the border," Filip said.
"What works in one district or sector may not work in another, and the most pressing needs even within a single district may well change over time," he said.
The new prosecutors will focus on suspected drug and human traffickers but also prosecute immigrants for entering the U.S. illegally.
In the past, captured immigrants with no previous criminal record in this country have just been bused back to the border and returned to Mexico. But early this year, the Border Patrol began misdemeanor prosecutions of about 60 illegal immigrants a day in Arizona for nonviolent entry into the U.S.
Border Patrol officials have said they would like to bump prosecutions up to 100 a day.
Filip, sworn into his post as Attorney General Michael Mukasey's second-in-command last month, said he "wanted to get here as soon as possible because border issues are among the top priorities of the Department of Justice."
With nearly half of all illegal immigrant apprehensions and marijuana seizures along the Mexican border occurring in Arizona, the state has the largest caseload in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the third-largest of the country's 94 judicial districts, Filip said.