Twenty-five men and women stood at the back of a crowded federal courtroom in Brownsville, Tx., one morning last month, and in a single voice pleaded guilty to immigration charges in a mass hearing, reports the Houston Chronicle. After each was sentenced, most to time served, the “cattle call” was over in little more than an hour. In the sprawling Southern District of Texas, a get-tough policy has many immigration offenders being prosecuted. They are held in jail, brought before a federal magistrate, appointed a defense attorney, and allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor immigration charges. Most are sentenced to time served and released.
The new policy, which netted 18,092 convictions in South Texas border towns during fiscal year 2004 – is touted by Justice Department officials as a step to bolster national security. Critics, including a government prosecutor, insist it is a waste of crucial federal manpower. “It’s not a good idea,” said Jeff Wilde, a federal public defender who represented most of those who appeared at the hearing in Brownsville. “You have a guy who washes car windshields, and now he’s facing a (potential) felony.” Said one federal prosecutor who asked not to be identified: “All we’re doing is keeping a spinning door spinning. We’re not making an impact. You’ve got to ask if any of these sentences are a deterrent. It’s a revolving door.”