DeConcini Federal Court, a criminal, not immigration, court (1:30-3:00)
Magistrate Bernardo Velasco
U.S. Federal Prosecutor: Weiss
Two Public Defenders
Samaritans: Roland, Judy & Scott Van Es, Sara Busey, Two Tucson Samaritans,
Visitors: a large group of Tucson high school students from Teen Court.
Of the 70 migrants today, 7 were dismissed without criminal charges to return to their country as they could not comprehend either English or Spanish. Twenty-six migrants were first time crossers and forty-four re-entry. The former were convicted of a criminal misdemeanor and released to return to their country. The re-entry migrants were also convicted of a criminal misdemeanor and will spend 1335 days in mainly private prisons at a cost to taxpayers of $214,935. A majority were from Mexico, 12 from Guatemala, six from Honduras and one from El Salvador. Most crossed near Sasabe.
Celestino Reyes-Martinez (18-20054MP) is a diabetic. Attorney Geuenevere Nelson-Melby said Border Patrol took his pills at his apprehension and he needed to take them that day. Velasco said he would instruct the Marshalls to see that he gets his medicine.
Cristobal Garcia-Mancia (18-20039M) requested asylum. According to his attorney Nelson-Melby, Cristobal’s brother was murdered in Honduras and he has a credible fear of returning there. She plans to give him an asylum packet from the Florence Project and send a letter to Immigration alerting them that he needs an asylum interview after he completes his 75 day sentence.
Magistrate Velasco spoke to our small group after the short court session:
Asylum: It is very difficult to get. No one crosses the border bringing witnesses. The US is required to seek specific witnesses and information about each asylum seeker, but because Immigration is a civil court, the migrant is not eligible for a pro bono lawyer. Only those with financial resources can afford to hire their own.
Medical Issues: The Marshalls have been known to not accept any migrant with serious medical problems when the bus brings them from Border Patrol head quarters the morning of OS. Velasco said treating the migrant may be more expensive than the Marshalls want to spend and they send him back to Border Patrol to pay.
Prosecutor’s Discretion: Velasco said the Border Patrol has migrant’s records and has the discretion to decide where they go after apprehension: released at the border, to Immigration for deportation, to flip-flop courts to be tried or to Operation Streamline. Using guidelines, they assign the number of days each migrant must spend in prison. At OS, the federal prosecutor may, and often does, change the sentence, especially when OS lawyers plead for shorter sentences for their clients.
Who goes to Streamline? If the felony courts are backed up, a migrant may go to OS instead. Two of today’s migrants probably should have gone to flip-flop court. One had a charge of 8 USC 1326 (b)(1) which meant he had a serious prior conviction eligible for 10 years in prison. Another had an 8 USC 1325(1)(2) charge which qualified him for 20 years. The charges may have been old or the felony courts may have been full. They were lucky, said Velasco.
Immigration Reform: It is badly needed—one that comprehensively looks at all current conditions and future consequences. But when we do legislate a better immigration system, it will have a strong security component. We have the latter now, not the former. Today “tough on security” is popular. Even a candidate in Texas running for civil court who will only deal with divorce law, uses that as a call for support.