US attorney reaffirms enforcement of all illegal entry cases

BROWNSVILLE — Prosecutors in the Southern District of Texas will continue to prosecute 100 percent of the cases referred to them by U.S. Border Patrol.

U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas announced the news Tuesday while discussing the prosecution of illegal entry cases in Brownsville. It’s news that comes just one day after U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said his agency would stop referring migrants caught crossing the border with children for prosecution.

“We are still seeing lots of cases referred to us by Border Patrol — there was a statement from (Border Patrol) that, for the foreseeable future, family units will not be referred to us for prosecution for the misdemeanors,” Patrick said. “My understanding of how (the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) is implementing the executive order is that until they can build the resources and coordination to keep family units together, we would not expect to see any family unit prosecutions for the misdemeanors.”

Patrick, who was appointed to the district by President Donald Trump earlier this year, was in the Rio Grande Valley last week as part of a roundtable addressing the separation of children from their parents.

“The Department of Justice is still maintaining its zero-tolerance policy, as far as anyone who is caught crossing the border illegally and referred to our office for prosecution,” Patrick said while meeting with the media Tuesday afternoon inside the federal courthouse in Brownsville. “We continue to prosecute every case brought to us by Border Patrol for prosecution, and we will continue to do so in accordance with the Attorney General’s memo.”

Patrick, the chief law enforcement officer for the district with the highest criminal docket in the nation, answered questions related to the illegal entry cases and how his prosecutors will be instructed to proceed after Trump’s executive order and CBP’s confirmation would cease the referral of such cases to prosecutors.

In response to Trump’s executive order last week to cease separating families, McAleenan said Monday that CBP would stop sending cases involving parents being charged with illegally entering the country to government prosecutors.

He said he did not know of any misdemeanor, illegal entry cases — known as 1325s — referred in the Southern District of Texas “for at least a few days.”

Having reversed course last week on the April-enacted “zero-tolerance” policy that led to family separations at the border, the president signed the executive order after pressure from both sides of the aisle.

Defense officials also confirmed that the Trump administration has chosen Army and Air Force bases in Texas — Fort Bliss and Goodfellow Air Force Base — to house detained migrants swept up in the federal government’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, said he hopes the necessary resources are in place for the families who will be housed there.

“While I retain my objection to the Trump administration’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy, multiple administrations have used military bases for the temporary relocation of American detainees,” Gonzalez said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “However, this is another example of the current administration’s after-the-fact scrambling to make up for poor planning. You should have the necessary resources in place before enacting a policy. In the future, I would caution President Trump and his administration to look before they leap.”

The US Attorney also said, in reference to an early May announcement from the DOJ, which said that 35 new assistant U.S. attorneys would be sent to offices along the U.S-Mexico border, his district will be adding eight new prosecutors.

He said six of those eight prosecutors would be distributed locally, with two in McAllen, two in Laredo, one new prosecutor in Brownsville and one in Corpus Christi. The other two would be distributed between the other courthouses under Patrick’s jurisdiction.

Patrick reiterated that his office will continue their prosecutions of every case sent to them until something changes.

“When we received the memo on zero tolerance, we jumped in and represented the United States of America, and the folks in my office stepped up to the task, their case numbers did increase, but they handled it,” Patrick said.

“We are going to continue to implement the attorney general’s memo, we’re also going to work with our partners and abide by the executive order, and if Congress decides to change the law, we will follow that — but what we’re doing as an office is we’re standing up in court everyday representing the United States of America and we’re following the laws that are written.”

lzazueta@themonitor.com