Statement of Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, National Immigrant Justice Center
The number of people entering the United States without authorization has been decreasing for years, yet U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ visit to the southern border today set the stage for the administration's latest round of white supremacist propaganda demonizing immigrants. Lost in the attorney general’s saber-rattling was the fact that the U.S. federal court system already is buckling under the weight of immigration prosecutions, which previous administrations also have relied on as a show of force against unlawful immigration.
More than half of all federal prosecutions brought by the U.S. Attorney's Office already are immigration-related. Meanwhile, the overwhelmed immigration court system faces a backlog of more than 500,000 cases. Many of those facing prosecution are individuals who unlawfully entered the United States without documentation in order to reunite with family or to seek protection from persecution, or people who lived in the United States for years before being caught up through racial profiling and convicted of drug crimes in the U.S. government’s decades-old "War on Drugs."
For years, immigrants caught up in this system languished in federal prisons that the Department of Justice abandoned last year after admitting they were poorly run. Many more of these federal prosecutions have taken place as part of Operation Streamline, a hidden system devoid of due process, in which federal judges hear cases en masse, and immigrants are forced to plead guilty and accept deportation without consulting lawyers. Based on today’s statements, Mr. Sessions intends to turn the full force of the U.S. justice system to doubling down on a prosecution and incarceration apparatus that abandons basic fairness and human rights, criminalizes people fleeing danger, exacerbates the failings of the U.S. "drug war," and destroys families and communities. None of this will make our country safer.