The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy ordering prosecutors to file charges on every single person who crosses the U.S. border without documents is draining resources used to combat illicit drug smuggling in southern California, a new report says.
USA Today looked at over 2,500 written judgments in border cases from federal courts dating back to mid-May. The newspaper also described an email sent by a Justice Department supervisor in San Diego to border authorities warning that the “zero tolerance” policy would “occupy substantially more of our resources” and that the local U.S. Attorney’s Office was “diverting staff, both support and attorneys, accordingly.”
The result is tighter deadlines for prosecutors to file drug smuggling cases in southern California.
According to the report:
The email, sent by the lawyer who runs the office’s major crimes unit, said prosecutors needed to streamline their work on smuggling cases. He said that would mean tight deadlines – sometimes just a few hours to produce reports and recordings – for those that would land in federal court. Going forward, the lawyer, Fred Sheppard, warned, if agents can’t meet that high bar, “the case will be declined.”
Meanwhile, prosecuting undocumented migrants—which has resulted in the separation of thousands of children from their parents since the policy was enacted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions—has required a type of “high-speed assembly line” in federal courts in states along the border to prosecute the immigration cases. Yet, USA Today said these cases “typically are seldom more than symbolic — most of the people who are charged are sentenced to no additional jail time and a $10 fee — but they have served as the legal basis for separating thousands of children from their parents at the border.”
According to the newspaper’s calculations, more than 4,100 migrants were charged with crossing into the U.S. from Mexico this month alone. In the majority of cases, after the migrants were prosecuted, they were immediately turned over to immigration officials to be processed for deportation. In other words, the entire charade is pointless, unless the intention is to rip apart poor, migrant families. Which it appears to be.
As to the drug smuggling cases in southern California, the report said “the Justice Department would agree to bring those cases to federal court only if agents had them wrapped up by 8:30 the next morning. To do that, he said, agents would need to have ‘finalized’ reports signed by their supervisors, two copies of recordings of interviews with the suspect, two copies of surveillance video and a dump of the suspect’s cellphone.”