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Rampant illegal immigration and increased prosecutions for drug crimes
have caused a crisis for federal courts along the U.S.-Mexico border,
prompting court officials and southwestern lawmakers to advocate more
resources for border courts in an attempt to ease the burgeoning caseload.
On May 11, seven federal judges from the federal appeals and district
courts of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California met with members of the
Congressional Border Caucus to discuss the growing crisis in the federal
courts along the U.S. southwest border. The problem, said the justices, was
that lawmakers had passed new measures to strengthen security along the
border but had not allowed for more court resources to deal with the
For example, said David Sellers, a spokesman in the Office of Public
Affairs in the
Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in Washington,
D.C., since 1995 — when Congress passed the Southwest Border Initiative (SBI), a national strategy designed to crack down on illegal immigration and drug smuggling in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas — record numbers of federal prosecutions have occurred.
Operating under a congressional mandate and increased funding, the Department of Justice has significantly expanded its presence along the U.S./Mexico border, stationing thousands of additional Border Patrol, INS and DEA agents there since 1994, with plans to significantly increase the number of such agents over the next two years.
Because of the additional law enforcement effort created by SBI, 26 percent of all criminal court filings in the U.S. are handled by the five district courts bordering Mexico. In addition, since 1994, criminal filings in the border courts have increased by 125 percent, while the other 74 percent of federal criminal filings are divided among 89 other district courts.
Meanwhile, drug prosecutions in those courts have nearly doubled in that time, rising from 2,864 in 1994 to 5,414 in 1998. Immigration prosecutions increased more than five-fold, from 1,056 to 5,614.
But, despite the marked increases in the courts’ caseload, resources to deal with the increases have fallen far behind.
Between 1994 and 1998, Sellers said, DEA personnel in the border courts surged 155 percent, Border Patrol personnel 99 percent, INS personnel 93 percent, and FBI personnel 37 percent. By contrast, the federal judicial officer resources in these five districts have increased only four percent, with probation and pretrial resources increasing only 19 percent.
That has led the average judge in these border courts to take on a caseload more than quadruple the national average, he said, prompting court officials in Washington, D.C. to release emergency funding for use by the border courts in an attempt to relieve some of the rising case work.
|Border Patrol agents restraining combative illegal alien along the U.S./Mexican border.|
Some lawmakers — citing public pressure — don’t believe the situation in the border courts will improve anytime soon.
“It is highly unlikely that Congress will change our criminal laws to reverse the trend of more arrests and prosecutions, particularly in the area of illegal drugs,” said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., in February. “But it is unfair and short-sighted for Congress to demand more law enforcement at the border without a corresponding increase in judicial and prison resources.”
Domenici expressed support for a plan offered by the Administrative Courts Office to create 16 new judge positions in the federal border courts, but said action on the proposal probably would not occur until a new administration takes office next year — if then.
But “until then,” Domenici said, “there are other things Congress can do, like provide more court personnel, magistrates, marshals, pre-trial and probation officers [and] try to lighten the load.”
He added that the Clinton administration had requested $3.5 billion for district courts and judicial services in 2001. Last year Congress appropriated $3.1 billion for the courts, nearly $200 million more than Clinton had requested. Domenici is the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.
As the load increases daily, however, so do pleas for relief.
“I’m sure there will be periodic communication” between judges and lawmakers, Sellers told WorldNetDaily on Monday. “The judges will continue to make Congress aware that if they’re going to add more border patrolmen and more prosecutors, these cases are headed to federal courts — and you need to be prepared to provided the necessary resources to the courts, too.”
Sellers said the “fairly informal” discussion in May culminated in the creation of a five-point program to address the problems in border courts, laid out to lawmakers by Chief Judge Carolyn Dineen King of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, who also led the delegation of judges to Washington:
- Adequate judiciary funding for 2001;
- New judgeships;
- Additional resources for the U.S. Marshal’s Service;
- More federal detention centers;
- Improved compensation for attorneys representing indigent defendants.
Without the additional funding, judges and congressional sources warn the caseload could get worse, especially in light of new threats from Mexican officials
to flood U.S. courts with illegal immigrant requests for court hearings.
Last week, officials from Agua Prieta, a Mexican city of about 130,000, vowed to clog the U.S. court system with illegal immigrants, because, they say, the U.S. Border Patrol is dumping in their town Mexican nationals caught crossing the border illegally.
“Our plan is to let people know the rights they have,” Agua Prieta Mayor Daniel Noriega told Fox News last week.