Immigration Law

Immigrants illegally entering the country experience 'rapid-fire justice' in federal courts

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Brian A. Jackson/

Seventy-four immigrants who entered the country illegally pleaded guilty in groups of seven on a recent Monday in a federal courtroom In Tucson, Arizona, where the New York Times observed their cases.

Most of the immigrants experiencing “rapid-fire justice” were sentenced to time served in jail—usually just a few days—and transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Times reports. They will stay in detention until they are deported, unless they file an asylum application that is deemed sufficient for a hearing.

The cases of all 74 immigrants were handled within about 90 minutes.

Thousands of new defendants are entering the federal court system as a result of the Trump’s administration’s new zero-tolerance policy. The administration is prosecuting people who cross the border illegally, a misdemeanor that was not a priority for the previous administration.

The Times cites data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC. It found nearly 60 percent of federal criminal prosecutions in April were for immigration violations.

The multiple-immigrant hearings are known as “Operation Streamline,” a process that began with President George W. Bush and is ramping up under President Donald Trump. The federal court in Tucson has handled 6,519 cases in Operation Streamline hearings so far this year, compared to 10,869 in all of 2017, the Times reports. In the Southern District of Texas, the caseload is double the number two months ago. Operation Streamline will begin in California next month.

Lawyers are given a list of the immigrants on the day of the hearing. The lawyers spend about 20 minutes with each immigrant to explain the charges and the process, before appearing at the hearings.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco presided over the Tucson cases. “If the executive branch wants to concentrate on illegal entry, that is what they do,” he told the Times.

“As a nation, we should all be thinking about what we are doing and how effective it is,” he added. “What are we doing as a country?”

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