Sessions’ Harsh Immigration Policy Is Taking Resources From The Drug War
The Department of Justice in Southern California is so overwhelmed with immigration cases, they’ve been unable to prosecute as many drug smugglers.
The Trump Administration’s harsher border policies are expected to drain the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) resources for drug enforcement in Southern California, according to a report from USA Today.
In a May 18th email to the Department of Homeland Security, San Diego DOJ supervisor, Fred Sheppard, warned that the ramped-up immigration policy “will occupy substantially more of our resources,” adding that the policy was already putting a strain on staff members which have shifted their focus from drug enforcement to processing immigration cases. The email came shortly after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” immigration policy in which all individuals caught crossing the border illegally would be detained and charged in federal court.
In the absence of adequate resources, prosecutors are left with just a few hours to process drug cases in order to have them heard by a federal court. That backlog may force authorities to send drug cases to state, rather than federal, courts where punishments are often less severe.
According to USA today, more than 4,000 immigrants have been charged since Sessions’ announcement, doubling the number of illegal migrant cases sent to the local US Attorney’s office.
The policy has also resulted in mass detentions for more than 2,000 children who were separated from their parents as a result of a policy which was not always enforced in the past. The controversial separations are part of a 1997 federal court decision as well as a 2008 immigration law which orders immigration authorities not to hold families in detention for extensive periods of time.
Instead, border enforcement is expected to deport the families without charging them or immediately send adults to federal court while finding the closest US relative or appropriate shelter to take their children. In previous years, immigration officials opted to deport a large portion of family cases so as to avoid straining the court system while also having to separate families.
However, because Sessions’ policy aims to prosecute every case that crosses the border, the result has been a massive increase in cases being brought to federal courts where drug smuggling cases might otherwise end up.
Ironically, USA Today also found the number of people actually charged in federal court has fallen, while more than 80 percent of migrants convicted spent no additional time in jail after their trial.
For weeks, the Trump administration fought off criticism for the separation of migrant children, claiming they had no choice but to enforce the law. But on Thursday (June 21), President Trump signed an executive order continuing the “zero tolerance policy” but eliminating the requirement that families be separated.
“So we’re going to have strong, very strong borders,” the president said, “but we’re going to keep the families together. I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.”
Since prosecutions are expected to continue, the strain on the system could continue to have an effect on drug-related cases—at least in California where Sheppard expressed concerns.