DeConcini Federal Court, a criminal, not immigration, court (1:30-2:50)
Magistrate Bernardo Velasco
U.S. Federal Prosecutor: Chris Lewis
Samaritans: Sara Busey
Of the 74 migrants today, Jose Jesus Mata-Hernandez (17-31311M) refused a plea bargain. He was rescheduled for a later trial on the felony charge, but with a different lawyer (to be appointed by Velasco) as his lawyer Samuel Washington will be out of the country at that time. If his appeal is denied, as most are, he faces 2-20 years in prison.
Augusto Felipe Alonzo-Gomez (17-31343M) from Guatemala expressed a credible fear of returning to his country. Lawyer Jessica Ruiz said he is tagged for expedited removal and Velasco instructed him to request an asylum interview with immigration after he serves his 30 day prison sentence.
One migrant asked the magistrate to reduce his 75 day sentence as he only crossed illegally to help his sick daughter get medical help. Although Velasco was very sympathetic, he said almost all of the other migrants faced similar hardships and the power to adjust migrants’ sentences has been taken away from magistrates.
Unlike other magistrates, Velasco doesn’t ask the migrants, “Do you plead guilty or not guilty?” Rather, he says, “ Do you want to give up your rights in order to plead guilty?” This approach eliminates the need for the migrants to confess “culpable.” He also doesn’t hesitate when a migrant misunderstands his questions, but proceeds on to the next question.
Velasco has a reputation for conducting speedy court sessions. Within 80 minutes, he excused 4 migrants due to language difficulties; sentenced 21to time served for illegal entry, sending them back to their countries with criminal misdemeanor records; and sentenced the remainder to prison for 30 to 180 days. As 9 migrants at a time stood before him, Velasco explained their rights in 2 minutes, then spoke directly to each for 15 seconds. (So much for “having your day in court!”)
Although speedy, this magistrate also has been a critic of Operation Streamline and in the past said he believes the migrants just want to get out of court quickly after spending all morning sitting there.
Velasco also speaks softly, making it difficult to hear. With the help of headphones offered by the Marshalls, I was able to hear quite well.
Most migrants were from Mexico, but a significant number were from Central America: 15 from Guatemala, 6 from Honduras. Lawyer Ruben Teran explained Cleiton Pereira was from Brazil and spoke Portugese, but also understood Spanish. Most crossed at Sasabe and Lukeville.
All together those in court today will spend 3240 days in mostly private prisons at the cost to US taxpayers of over half a million ($521,640).
- Sara Busey