Defense Dept. to Help Justice Dept. Prosecute Immigration Cases

Defense Dept. to Help Justice Dept. Prosecute Immigration Cases


WASHINGTON — As federal prosecutors face skyrocketing immigration caseloads along the southwestern border, the Defense Department agreed Wednesday to help the Justice Department prosecute the cases.

Twenty-one lawyers for the Defense Department “will work full time, assisting in prosecuting reactive border immigration cases, with a focus on misdemeanor improper entry and felony illegal re-entry cases,” the department said in a statement. The assignment is to last for about six months.

The Justice Department had asked for the help in anticipation of a surge in cases after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy in April.

“A crisis has erupted at our southwest border that necessitates an escalated effort to prosecute those who choose to illegally cross our border,” Mr. Sessions said at the time.

“To those who wish to challenge the Trump administration’s commitment to public safety, national security and the rule of law, I warn you: Illegally entering this country will not be rewarded, but will instead be met with the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice,” he said.

In a memo to federal prosecutors along the border with Mexico, Mr. Sessions said they should request additional resources as needed to enforce the new policy. “Our goal is not simply more cases. It is to end the illegality in our immigration system,” he said.

The Justice Department’s hard line on immigration has elicited strong opposition in recent weeks. Immigration judges fear that the attorney general wants to prioritize speed over due process for immigration and amnesty cases.

Protests against a decision to enforce separation of children from parents who seek to enter the United States reached such a fevered pitch that President Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday meant to end the practice.

Yet criminal prosecutions for illegally crossing the southwestern border jumped to 8,298 in April, the month Mr. Sessions announced the zero-tolerance policy, an increase of 30 percent from March, according to data from TRAC, a research institute at Syracuse University.

Curbing immigration has been a signature issue for Mr. Sessions throughout his career, which has included stints as a federal prosecutor and state attorney general in Alabama, and nearly 20 years in the Senate.

In speeches this year, Mr. Sessions has said that the zero-tolerance policy would hopefully deter immigrants from entering the United States.

“The world will know what our rules are, and great numbers will no longer undertake this dangerous journey,” he said in a speech this month to immigration judges.

“The number of illegal aliens and the number of baseless claims will fall,” he said. “A virtuous cycle will be created, rather than a vicious cycle of expanding illegality.”



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