To discourage immigrants from crossing the Mexican border, the Department of Justice has created a policy of arresting more of those who cross the border illegally. With thousands of people crossing this border — whether it’s to find work or find asylum from a chaotic, crime-filled home country — the arrests are filling up federal courts and facilities.
When President Barack Obama stepped up immigration enforcement from Mexico, including charging criminal offenses, San Diego’s federal courts became so busy that immigrants arrested near the border slept on the floor of border patrol stations for days before seeing a judge, according to Reuters. We may be going back to those bad old days.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco told Reuters that federal courts in Arizona are processing about 75 immigration cases a day, which is their maximum capacity. Though more federal prosecutors are being sent to border areas, they’re only part of the personnel working in the criminal justice system.
Raner Collins, the Chief U.S. District Judge in Arizona, stated that no additional resources have been provided to federal courts to handle the wave of new cases, including marshals, judges, court staff or defense lawyers, because there are no more resources.
In April there were almost 51,000 people apprehended at or near the southern border, an increase from about 16,000 in April 2017. During President Obama’s second term, April apprehensions averaged about 50,000.
Federal officials aren’t required to file criminal charges against those who enter the country illegally. They could quickly deport them or prosecute them and, if they’re found guilty, remove them from the country after they serve their sentences, normally a short time in federal prison.
Prior administrations enacted similar policies temporarily, including President Obama. A 2011 court order from the Southern District of California found the high number of cases led to backlogged courts and left immigrant defendants living in facilities without access to “beds, hygiene products and adequate food.”
The Obama administration eventually cut down on the number of criminal prosecutions it brought, in part because of complaints that resources used to deal with undocumented immigrants were being diverted from more serious crimes and courts were becoming overwhelmed.
As of May 2018, according to the Department of Homeland Security, there have been nearly 30,000 prosecution referrals for illegal entry since October 2017, up from 18,642 for all of fiscal year 2017. That number represents only a small fraction of those apprehended while crossing the border, more than 211,000 along the Southwest border alone.
Because these individuals are charged with a federal crime, it’s U.S. Marshals, not immigration authorities, who detain those criminally charged. To make room, people are being moved to distant prisons, making it difficult for lawyers to communicate with clients about their defense.
There are different kinds of laws. Immigration law is considered part of administrative law, law that concerns the operation and law enforcement by government agencies. Criminal law involves the prosecution and defense of possible crimes. The current administration is mixing the two in the hope of discouraging people from immigrating. Whether these policies will change after federal courts start bursting at the seams and immigrants are forced into tent cities, time will tell.
If you or a loved one lives in Fayette County, Kentucky, or the surrounding area, and you have questions about immigration law or need representation in an immigration matter, Carman & Fullerton can help you, whether you speak English, Spanish or another language. Your future and that of your family is at stake, so contact us today.
Attorney Kirby J. Fullerton
Mr. Fullerton’s practice is focused on immigration law. He speaks Spanish, and represents clients in cases before the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals. He began his career practicing criminal defense, and understands how matters in criminal courts can affect a client’s immigration status. [Attorney Bio]