Magistrate Bernardo Velasco
Samaritans: Alan Koch & 2 Portland friends; Kathy Zweig and Lyn Norwakowski and friends; Sara Busey
Visitors: John Turnbull, English Professor from Northern Illinois University; Father Cory Brost leading 10 Catholic Viatorian college students; and 12 Ignatius College Program students.
Only 23 migrants today. Velasco sentenced them 8 at a time within 15 minutes for a total of 1375 days in prison at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of $224,595. Five were from Guatemala, one from Honduras and the rest from Mexico. Most crossed near Sasebe and Nogales. Two were dismissed to return to their countries because no translator was available for their language and one dismissed due to low comprehension.
Velasco responded at length after court to some excellent questions posed by the students. Several focused on asylum, possibly because Brost works with asylum seekers in Chicago and Turnbull at NIU and previously Atlanta. Velasco defended prison time for those who arrive without papers between ports of entry because “they committed a crime,” but said their criminal conviction doesn’t negatively affect their later asylum request. He stressed asylum seekers need to present themselves at a port of entry.
According to the magistrate, prosecutorial discretion is utilized in the immigration process. In the field, the Border Patrol decides whether to deport, offer a voluntary return, or send a migrant to criminal court. And prior to an OS court session, the migrant’s lawyer and the federal prosecutor decide together the length of sentence to assign.
“OS is a good deal: six months in OS versus 24 to 120 months in a regular court room. And they have court appointed lawyers, which Americans do not have, “ Velasco said.
When asked about private prisons, Velasco mentioned that private prison employees can lobby Congress; public employees like him cannot.
“You may not like what you see at OS, but it is what our representatives gave us. It is legal.” He said the students should lobby their Congressional representatives for comprehensive immigration reform if they have problems with OS.
After the court session, OS lawyer Parris also spoke at length to some students. When asked if he was aware of a form that indicates a migrant’s request for asylum that can be included in their file, he dodged the question. He did say he has contacted the Florence Project to follow up on such migrants or has given them names of pro bono immigration lawyers to contact. He himself can’t afford to be one. He also said he had personally been threatened by anti-OS activists, which shouldn’t happen in a civil society.