Attorney General Jeff Sessions deployed dozens of new prosecutors and 18 more immigration judges down to the U.S.-Mexico border Wednesday to handle the illegal immigrant caravan and to try to head off another summertime surge of border jumpers.
The additional lawyers should give the government capacity to file more criminal charges as a deterrent to illegal immigrants, and the added judges will help speed decisions on asylum claims like the ones the caravan participants say they’re making.
“We are not going to let this country be overwhelmed. People are not going to caravan or otherwise stampede our border,” Mr. Sessions said.
His move is the latest step by an administration that sees the caravan as a direct challenge to President Trump’s promises of border security.
Homeland Security and Justice Department officials have promised to take an increasingly tough line on illegal immigrants nabbed at the border.
Where in the past they might be arrested, processed and quickly deported, Mr. Sessions has said those caught sneaking in will now in many cases face prosecution for illegal entry — a misdemeanor crime.
Those who’ve previously been deported yet sneak back in can be charged with illegal re-entry, which is a felony.
Eleven illegal immigrants authorities say were part of the caravan but broke off and tried to sneak in Friday and through the weekend now face charges.
Most of the caravan, however, is waiting to make asylum cases. They are camped in Mexico just outside the port of entry to the U.S., where the government is admitting them in a trickle.
When they meet with border officers they are expected to make asylum claims. They are then turned over to asylum officers who do an initial screening — most of them are expected to clear that bar. But the tougher challenge comes later, when they face an immigration judge for a final ruling. Historically, only about 1 in 5 Central Americans is likely to win that case.
The problem for the Trump administration is that it’s so overwhelmed with the surge of asylum applicants that it doesn’t have space to hold them while they await their hearings. Instead many of them are released — and border officials say about 80 percent never show up for their hearings.
Mr. Sessions has said half of them never even bother to file an asylum claim, suggesting they were just trying to gain a foothold in the U.S. and didn’t actually think they deserved asylum.
Surging the additional 18 judges will allow cases to be heard faster, making it more likely people can be ousted if they lose their claim.