Federal courtrooms in border regions are exhibiting standing-room-only situations following the implementation of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions demand for zero tolerance of illegal crossings. The policy is packing dockets with recently arrested illegal immigrants, many of whom are parents separated from their children under new enforcement actions.
In one Texas border courthouse, 92 defendants filled the five benches normally utilized by visitors and court staff, Los Angeles Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske wrote.
“It’s packed in there,” one of the guards told the reporter. “This is what it’s going to be like from now on — no more ‘catch and release.’ ”
The Times article said the impact is most visible in South Texas where the majority of illegal Central American border crossers illegally enter the U.S. The Rio Grande Valley Sector accounts for largest numbers. More than half of all Family Unit Alien and nearly half of all Unaccompanied Alien Children apprehensions occur in this single sector, according to the latest Southwest Border Migration Report released earlier this month.
“The impact is worst in McAllen, but it’s everywhere,” federal public defender for the Southern District of Texas Marjorie Meyers told the Times. She called it “an explosion.” She said the impact is being felt in all four divisions of the district, including Corpus Christi, which is located more than 120 miles from the Mexican border.
Another public defender, Miguel “Andy” Nogueras, said the Southern District of Texas has always been one of the busiest in the nation. “Now its ridiculous,” Nogueras said.
The Times reported that of the 92 facing prosecution on this one day, 65 had a previous criminal history. Ten of those in court were parents who saw their children removed from them after they crossed. The Trump Administration implemented a policy to remove the children from the parent’s custody when they are arrested at the border.
The article states that most of the migrants plead guilty to the charge and are sentenced to time served. However, the misdemeanor conviction means that if they are deported and subsequently return to the U.S., they could face felony prosecution with a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Ormsby processed each criminal case individually and asked each of the migrants if they understood their rights and if they had spoken with an attorney. The judge admonished the migrants that further returns to the U.S. would result in stronger sentences.
The Times reporter returned to the court the following day and found 70 more illegal immigrants awaiting the same process. She wrote that 66 of these had no previous criminal record and 18 were separated from families.