Hearing set on immigration misdemeanor cases

McALLEN — A federal judge is expected to hold a hearing today regarding a policy affecting defendants with misdemeanors for crossing into the country illegally.

A day after President Donald Trump signed an executive order that ends the separation of children from their parents — after previously stating it was up to Democrats to change the policy his administration said didn’t exist — U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter E. Ormsby could potentially still hand down an order directing U.S. Border Patrol agents to keep defendants who receive a time-served sentence from being separated from their children.

A counsel conference hearing on a “proposed order regarding reunification of defendants with separated minor family members” is set for this afternoon, with representatives for the government and the public defender’s office expected to appear.

The hearing is a follow-up to a hearing last Thursday, which came at the request of the public defender’s office after a Honduran woman was separated from her 16-year-old daughter. They were separated after the woman was sent to federal court and given a time-served sentence.

That woman, who was detained May 21 after attempting to enter the country illegally, and sentenced to a time-served sentence on May 23, before Ormsby, was returned to the processing center only to find her daughter had been removed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, sent to Health and Human Services officials and then placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at a detention facility in the Rio Grande Valley.

The woman subsequently asked for asylum based on a credible fear threat, was sent to a detention facility in Washington state where she awaits a decision regarding her asylum claim. The woman’s daughter remains at an unknown ORR facility in the Valley, according to government officials.

Since her hearing, the noise surrounding the separations has reached a peak — with members of Congress, advocacy groups, and interfaith leaders, all condemning the administration’s policy.

At today’s hearing Ormsby could decide to direct Border Patrol how to deal with defendants who have no prior criminal history and are charged with illegal entry into the country.

Those defendants, Ormsby said, are typically sentenced to a few days time-served, and released back to the custody of Border Patrol where they are processed and deported, unless they seek additional immigration relief.

At the previous hearing Ormsby, who said the order would be limited to time-served defendants, and only until they are released from the court’s jurisdiction, asked the government to bring to today’s hearing any case law or reasons as why the court should not hand down such a limited order.

“If the government would be opposed to that type of requirement; if there’s a legal basis for that, that you could point out,” Ormsby said.

Ormsby compared the potential order he’s considering with other similar orders directed at the government — specifically with regard to the personal property of defendants who appear before the court.

“Pretty often the court will require the government to make sure someone gets their wallet back — and how much more significant is a person’s child or family member.”

At a news conference Sunday, Border Patrol Sector Chief Manuel Padilla was non-committal when asked if he would follow the court’s potential order.

Saying he would consult with the agency’s lawyers, Padilla would not say if he would adhere to an order keeping the children of time-served defendants at the processing center while the parents go through the brief judicial process.

“My lawyer will advise me what it is that we’re bound to do,” Padilla said.

lzazueta@themonitor.com