“Immigration-Related Prosecutions Increased from 2017 to 2018 in Response to U.S. Attorney General’s Direction” by Government Accountability Office, December 3, 2019
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released today examines the spike in criminal prosecutions of illegal entry and reentry into the United States from 2014 to 2019, with the greatest increase taking place following then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ zero-tolerance prosecution policy, which contributed to the separation of thousands of children from their parents. The report identifies serious due process violations resulting from the mass prosecution of dozens of defendants at one time. For example, in October 2018, the GAO observed 14 assistant federal public defenders in McAllen, Texas, meeting with 72 clients in a single hour—an average of just five minutes of attorney-client contact before the large group heard the charges against them, pleaded guilty, and received their sentences.
The GAO also finds that the ramp-up in mass prosecutions has depleted already limited law enforcement resources, detracting from significant and resource-intensive criminal investigations and preventing government personnel from meeting necessary training requirements.
These mass prosecutions undermine the United States’ constitutional commitment to due process and diminish the rule of law. Yet even addressing these important concerns would do little to restore the rule of law in the U.S. immigration system today. Instead, policymakers need to build a system of rules that meets the realistic needs of the country—one that people believe can be followed and should be enforced in a fair and just way.
For more on how to reframe the immigration debate, see CAP’s report: “Restoring the Rule of Law Through a Fair, Humane, and Workable Immigration System.”