Federal district courts in Arizona are already working at capacity and can’t take more prosecutions, their chief judge said Monday. He was responding to the U.S. attorney general’s announcement that the Department of Homeland Security is now referring 100 percent of unauthorized border crossings for prosecution.
“We can only do what we do now,” said U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins. “We are at our limit.”
In fiscal 2017, more than 14,000 people were sentenced to prison for crossing the border illegally (entry and re-entry) in the District of Arizona, according to data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
Last fiscal year, the Border Patrol made nearly 39,000 apprehensions in its Tucson sector and close to 13,000 in its Yuma sector — numbers that could potentially mean doubling the number of prosecutions if everyone is prosecuted. While a person can be apprehended more than once in a given year, the recidivism rate among the agency’s arrestees has decreased significantly over the years.
“If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday. “It’s that simple.”
This includes parents who come with their children. “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child may be separated from you as required by law,” Sessions said. “… So if you’re going to come to this country, come here legally. Don’t come here illegally.”
In the first four months of the year, the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, an Arizona-based organization that provides free legal services to those in immigration detention, has seen 135 cases of parents separated from their children, said Lauren Dasse, the group’s executive director. It had 213 cases in all of 2017, she said, up from 190 the previous year.
“We have concerns, especially when we talk about prosecuting every single immigrant,” Dasse said.