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Louisiana’s Love Affair With Locking Up Kids For Life

Years after two landmark Supreme Court rulings, prosecutors in Louisiana are still overwhelmingly seeking life sentences for children.

Louisiana’s Love Affair With Locking Up Kids For Life

Years after two landmark Supreme Court rulings, prosecutors in Louisiana are still overwhelmingly seeking life sentences for children.

The Supreme Court may have declared life without parole, or LWOP, unconstitutional for juveniles, but Louisiana continues the practice of sentencing children to die in prison.

In its 2012 Miller v. Alabama decision, the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles (or teenagers who were younger than 18) constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Its decision did not specify whether states should retroactively apply the ruling, leaving each state to decide on its own. In four states, courts ruled that the decision only applied to present and future cases. Louisiana was one of those states.

This meant that Henry Montgomery, who had been sentenced to LWOP for the 1963 shooting of a sheriff’s deputy when he was 17, would spend the rest of his life in prison. After his first trial, he was sentenced to death, which was overturned by the state Supreme Court. At his retrial, he was convicted of first-degree murder, which in Louisiana carries an automatic sentence of life without parole.   

After the Miller decision, Montgomery challenged the state’s refusal to retroactively resentence juveniles given LWOP. His case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court which, in January 2016, ruled that Miller was retroactive and that defendants who had automatically been sentenced to LWOP as juveniles must be resentenced or considered for parole. At that time, Montgomery was among 2,585 people nationwide serving life without parole sentences for crimes they committed when they were children. In Louisiana, 282 people were serving juvenile LWOP sentences.

The Louisiana legislature amended its laws to comply with Montgomery. The initial bill would have prohibited LWOP for all juveniles, including those convicted of first-degree murder. But under pressure from the state’s district attorney association, the version that passed prohibits future LWOP sentences for juveniles who are convicted of second-degree murder. It also guarantees a sentencing hearing for youth who have been convicted of first- or second-degree murder. However, the amendment still allows children to be sentenced to LWOP if they were indicted before Aug. 1, 2017, and later convicted of first- or second-degree murder. The amended article gave district attorneys until Oct. 1, 2017, to give notice of their intent to seek LWOP.

“What this shows is the incredible role of prosecutors in shaping the legislation,” John Pfaff, a professor at Fordham Law School and author of Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform, told The Appeal. Under the amended law, he notes, “prosecutors still have tremendous authority.” And they are using it: Prosecutors filed notices about their intentions to seek new LWOP sentences in 92 of the 258 eligible cases (or 32 percent).

If a prosecutor is seeking juvenile LWOP, a separate hearing is required under Miller in which a judge must determine if the person is, in fact, the “worst of the worst” and incapable of rehabilitation. But public defenders have said that they lack the money for resources to mount an adequate defense for Miller hearings, including intensive investigations into the histories of their clients, which includes interviewing family members and former teachers and obtaining education, medical, and incarceration records as well as hiring experts.  Juvenile defendants eligible for re-sentencing under Montgomery, meanwhile, are required to have a similarly resources-intensive hearing. Montgomery hearings are also very expensive—New Orleans’s chief public defender estimates that they cost $56,000 per case—so defendants often receive subpar representation for them or even no hearing at all, especially in states in poor fiscal health like Louisiana.

Louisiana’s amended law did not include a reporting requirement, but the New Orleans-based Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights has been tracking outcomes by checking court dockets and calling the offices of judicial district clerks. The center found that at least 85 defendants still have open resentencing cases under Montgomery. In Orleans Parish, which includes New Orleans, the prosecutor has filed notices intending to seek LWOP in at least 26 of his Montgomery 67 cases (or 39 percent). The prosecutor in neighboring Jefferson Parish has filed notices in 10 of his such 23 cases (or 43 percent). A Louisiana defense attorney recently told The Appeal that the district attorney in Calcasieu Parish files a notice of intent to seek LWOP for all of the juvenile offenders in his parish who are eligible for resentencing under Montgomery.

“It seems like we’re on a carousel repeating the mistakes of the past,”  Jill Pasquarella, supervising attorney of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights Campaign to End Extreme Sentencing for Youth, told The Appeal. “The post-Miller data tells us this pattern is likely to persist. Even with instructions from the Supreme Court, kids [convicted of murder] were still sentenced to LWOP at a rate of 62 percent. That’s a far cry from ‘rare’ and ‘uncommon.’”

As with everything related to prosecution and prisons, race remains a key factor in prosecutorial decisions. “This is, without question, disproportionately punishing African-American kids,” Pasquarella noted. In the 23rd Judicial District which encompasses Ascension (22 percent Black), Assumption (30 percent Black) and St. James (50 percent Black), there are five people who are eligible for  Montgomery resentencings. Four of these five people are African-American. The district attorney is seeking LWOP against all four African-American defendants, but not the single white defendant in the jurisdiction.

The 23rd Judicial District is not an anomaly. “Race plays a role in the same way that it plays out throughout the criminal justice system,” reflected Pasquarella. African-Americans comprise slightly less than one-third (or 32 percent) of Louisiana’s overall population but they comprise 74 percent of the people sentenced to life without parole. The children’s rights center found that African-Americans comprise 75 percent of Montgomery-eligible cases in which the state is seeking a new life without parole sentence. In addition, only two of the 39 Miller defendants are white.

These numbers are a far cry from “rare and uncommon,” noted Pasquarella, referencing “the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption” that the Supreme Court acknowledged might still be sentenced to life without parole. At the same time, prosecutors retain the discretion to seek sentences long enough to guarantee that a person will die in prison.

But even those who do become eligible for parole may not necessarily walk out the prison gates. Though he was responsible for the change in law, 71-year-old Henry Montgomery remains in prison. Following the Supreme Court decision, Montgomery was resentenced and became eligible for parole. In February 2018, Montgomery appeared before the Louisiana parole board. In a 2-to-1 decision, the board denied him parole, in part because he had not been able to participate in prison programs that are off limits to people serving life sentences. Montgomery is in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola.   

“Even with the Miller and Montgomery opinions, we put very few restrictions on what district attorneys can do,” said Pfaff, the Fordham law professor. “They retain tremendous discretion to be punitive and we see that in their embrace of juvenile life without parole.”

No Mercy

As worthy cases for clemency from Cyntoia Brown to Calvin Bryant mount in Tennessee, advocates decry the fact that a Tennessee governor hasn't commuted a prison sentence since 2011.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has not commuted a single sentence during his eight years in office.
Chip Somodevilla / Staff

No Mercy

As worthy cases for clemency from Cyntoia Brown to Calvin Bryant mount in Tennessee, advocates decry the fact that a Tennessee governor hasn't commuted a prison sentence since 2011.

Calvin Bryant committed a crime in the wrong place—and at perhaps the wrongest of times.

It was 2008 and Bryant, then 22, sold 320 pills, mostly Ecstasy, to a longtime family friend who had insisted that he needed the drugs so he could sell them to support his family.

But it turned out that family friend was working as an informant for the Metro Nashville Police Department in exchange for $1,870 and the dismissal of a pending felony charge. Because the drug sale took place at Bryant’s home in Nashville’s Edgehill housing projects, which was within 1,000 feet of a school, he had run afoul of Tennessee’s Drug-Free School Zone law. So the offense meant a mandatory minimum sentence 15 years and, even though Bryant did not have a criminal record, he was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Under state law, Bryant must serve 15 years before he is parole eligible. A supporter of Bryant’s on Nashville’s Metro Council later wrote that his sentence “was more severe than the sentence he would have received for committing a violent crime such as rape or second-degree murder.”

When Bryant was arrested in 2008, Nashville prosecutors were still strictly adhering to  Tennessee’s 1995 Drug-Free School Zone law that provided for “enhanced criminal penalties for violation within zone.” But in 2014, Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk took office and instituted a policy of not prosecuting cases under the Drug-Free School Zone law unless a child was actually endangered.

Today, Bryant is serving the 10th year of his sentence, with at least five more ahead of him. His lawyer, Daniel Horwitz, notes in a recent court filing that if Bryant’s home had simply been a little farther away from the school or if the sale had taken place a mere six years later, he almost certainly would have been released from prison seven years ago if not sooner.

Yet Bryant has yet to find relief in the courts. In January, a Davidson County judge described his sentence as “harsh” but declined to reduce it. Now he and Horwitz are seeking clemency from Governor Bill Haslam. But in the buckle of the Bible Belt, mercy is in short supply.

A Tennessee governor has not commuted a sentence since 2011, when Phil Bredesen granted 22 pardons and four commutations in the final days of his tenure (compare Haslam and Breseden’s record on commutations to former governor Ray Blanton, who issued 617 commutations and 41 pardons during his one term in the mid-late 1970s). In 2017, Haslam, a Republican, granted an executive exoneration to Lawrence McKinney, who had been cleared by DNA testing after serving 31 years for a rape he did not commit. The exoneration made McKinney eligible to receive compensation for his wrongful conviction. But while Haslam’s administration has received 512 applications for commutation since 2011, he has not commuted a single sentence during his eight years in office.

Haslam is empowered to grant pardons and commutations at his discretion. It’s a power that was once used regularly by his predecessors. In a 2016 article for the Tennessee Bar Association Journal, Nashville criminal defense attorney Benjamin Raybin noted that “until the early 1920s, clemency served as the primary temper on often harsh sentences and injustices within the judicial system, where many crimes were capital offenses.” Although its use has declined, clemency remains a powerful tool that governors can use to mitigate unduly harsh sentences and reduce high levels of incarceration. Tennessee is one of the most incarcerated states in America and, worse, among states in the top 25 for incarceration rates, Tennessee is one of just nine where the prison population increased from 2016 to 2017, according to a newly released study from the Vera Institute of Justice.

Asked why Haslam has not used his clemency power, and whether he plans to use it in the coming months, a representative would only say that the governor will consider it.

“The governor is considering pending clemency applications and may make additional grants of clemency in appropriate cases,” press secretary Jennifer Donnals told The Appeal.

Political timidity about using clemency powers is not unique to Haslam, nor is it solely a Southern-state phenomenon. Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, for instance, has commuted only 12 prison sentences in his nearly seven years in office.

Haslam’s unwillingness to grant clemency is compounded by recent criminal justice reform failures in Tennessee. A bill that would have reduced the reach of the state’s drug-free school zones—which cover large swaths of the city, particularly low-income and minority neighborhoods—from 1,000 feet to 500 feet had bipartisan support but was killed by 11th-hour opposition from the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference. The state’s new Juvenile Justice Reform Act included provisions limiting the number of children held in state custody, particularly for minor offenses like school absences, while limiting the number of youth transferred into adult court. But the final version of the bill, signed into law by Haslam on May 21, was strongly criticized by juvenile justice experts as “gutted” of such meaningful reforms. Haslam also signed a bill last year overturning city ordinances in Nashville and Memphis that created reduced penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Applications for executive clemency must first go through the state’s Board of Parole which has referred only a small fraction to the governor despite receiving hundreds of applications.

In 2010, the board voted unanimously against recommending exoneration in Lawrence McKinney’s case, despite assertions from the judge and district attorney that McKinney was innocent. Last month, the board split on whether to recommend clemency for Cyntoia Brown, the Nashville woman serving a life sentence for killing a man—she said in self-defense—who had hired her for sex when she was 16.  “I don’t know why the governor, at this point, relies on their judgment at all,” Horwitz, Bryant’s attorney, told The Appeal. “They’ve pretty well proven themselves to be out of touch with the way I think most people feel about clemency issues.”

But the power of clemency need not be reserved for extraordinary, prominent cases. Through commutations, Haslam, a supposed moderate relative to Tennessee’s deep-red state legislature, could strike a blow against the state’s rising prison population by reducing the sentences of entire classes of prisoners. Bryant’s case is perhaps uniquely sympathetic, but 436 people have been convicted under Tennessee’s drug-free school zone law since it was enacted, according to a court filing in Bryant’s case. A recent Reason investigation found that cases prosecuted under the law that involve the actual endangerment of children are rare and that around 100 offenders ensnared in the law did not have a prior felony conviction. If he wanted to, Haslam could show them all mercy tomorrow.

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Chaos in the Courthouse as Border Arrests Surge

Public defenders say immigrants arrested under Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy are being denied their due process rights.

A 1-year-old from El Salvador clings to his mother after she turned herself in to Border Patrol agents.
John Moore / Getty

Chaos in the Courthouse as Border Arrests Surge

Public defenders say immigrants arrested under Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy are being denied their due process rights.

It was just before 3 p.m. on a recent Tuesday and Magistrate Judge Barbara L. Major of the Southern District of California had been waiting all afternoon to arraign 37 people arrested for illegally entering the country. The arrests followed the Trump administration’s enactment of a new “zero-tolerance” policy, under which anyone caught crossing the border illegally—even first-time offenders—would be federally prosecuted for a misdemeanor and face a possible six months in prison. But the defendants never appeared in the San Diego courthouse that day. While processing them, the Bureau of Prisons’ computer system crashed nationwide, leaving U.S. marshals unable to transport people to court.

Quickly, federal public defenders filed writs of habeas corpus, which compel the government to produce defendants when they are scheduled to be in court. By Wednesday morning, prosecutors dropped the charges against 32 people charged with misdemeanors, after defense attorneys moved to dismiss the charges based on the delay. Standing outside the chief judge’s chambers that morning, U.S. Attorney Michael Lasater told Ryan Stitt, a trial attorney at Federal Defenders of San Diego, the government had erred in trying to rush through the prosecutions. “They should not have been booked,” he said. “It was silly to book them.”

But for public defenders representing clients being swept up under the new policy, the situation is anything but silly. When Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the change in April, many wondered whether federal courts would be able to handle the thousands of new prosecutions without infringing on legal and due process rights. The answer, public defenders argue, is now clear. They say that some of their clients are detained in far-away facilities, are often not allowed to adequately consult with defense attorneys before appearing in court, and are being coerced into accepting plea deals just to get out of jail.

“The court has already begun to reshape itself to accommodate the increase in prosecutions, and these accommodations serve to diminish both the court and the constitutional protections accorded the accused,” wrote Reuben Camper Cahn, executive director of Federal Defenders of San Diego, in a June 4 letter to Chief Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz, first reported by the Voice of San Diego.

“It’s profoundly depressing to see people treated this way,” said Jami Ferrara, a former trial attorney with Federal Defenders, which provides defense at first appearance to anyone arrested in the district without a private attorney. Ferrara now leads the Criminal Justice Act Panel, which assigns lawyers to provide defense for poor people charged with federal crimes. These two organizations are saddled with the thousands of new cases the government has tried to push through in recent months.

“The district is in complete disarray,” Ferrara told The Appeal. Lawyers have heavy caseloads, files are often incomplete, and the courts are sometimes open late into the evening. While the maximum sentence for misdemeanor illegal entry is six months, many defendants feel compelled to plead guilty to guarantee a speedy release, opening them up to being prosecuted for felonies the next time they are caught crossing the border. A felony conviction carries the potential sentence of two years in federal prison, with the possibility of added time based on the defendant’s criminal and immigration history.

Ferrara said the government is rubber-stamping most cases with “time served” sentences, but her clients are still at risk. “We’re not getting enough discovery, and the government thinks that by just making time-served recommendations, that pretty much solves the problem. I don’t know which way this is going to go, but it’s a very disappointing time in American jurisprudence.”  

Judge Major herself seemed wary of the speed at which these complaints were being presented to her for review. On the day of the computer glitch, when a Border Patrol agent presented her with 57 new complaints, Major asked if he had actually read them. When the Border Patrol agent nodded nonchalantly, Major followed up, “All of them? Because you know you’re signing them under threat of federal prosecution for perjury.”

"I don’t know which way this is going to go, but it’s a very disappointing time in American jurisprudence."

The DOJ contends its recent computer failure had nothing to do with the zero-tolerance policy. Later that week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office dismissed another 18 cases because of delays in presenting clients in court for arraignment. The computer system was working just fine that day. Instead, according to DOJ spokeswoman Kelly Thornton, the defendants “were not cleared medically to appear in court, and therefore the United States moved to dismiss their prosecution.” Thornton added that her office is working “with the court to implement the attorney general’s zero-tolerance policy and manage the increase in cases while respecting due-process rights.”

Regardless of what causes the delays on a particular day, public defenders say these are signs of a system that has been pushed to the breaking point. As U.S. attorneys’ offices near the southern border have continued to increase prosecutions and the DOJ has allocated even more prosecutors to these districts, they say, there’s no sign that the government will be backing down—and little effort to ensure that immigrants are being treated fairly.

‘I cry nearly every day’

Federal criminal prosecutions of individuals apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) along the southwest border with Mexico jumped 30 percent in April 2018 over March figures, according to Syracuse University’s TRAC, which tracks federal prosecutions. Between January and April, criminal prosecutions jumped 60 percent, rising to 8,298 from 5,191. Still, that’s far from “zero-tolerance.” In April, only 22 percent of Border Patrol apprehensions resulted in criminal prosecutions, up just slightly from 20 percent of apprehensions in January 2018.

Overwhelmingly, public defenders say, those prosecuted for illegal entry are Central American and Mexican men whose ages range from 18 to well into their 60s. Several have asylum claims they plan to file after the federal criminal cases conclude and they are transferred to immigration courts for deportation proceedings. But many are also simply trying to rejoin their families, who are often a mix of U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and undocumented individuals.

Some have crossed the border with children, who are then separated from their parents and placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. Nizario Jacinto-Carillo, 32, an immigrant who was fleeing gang violence in Guatemala with his daughter Filomena, 5, was caught by Border Patrol near the port of entry at Tecate, California, on May 16. According to a declaration provided to The Appeal by his federal public defender, they were brought to a Border Patrol station where agents took Filomena away from her father. “I do not know when I will see my daughter again,” Jacinto-Carillo said in his declaration. “I cry nearly every day missing my daughter.” With the help of his lawyer, Jacinto-Carillo found out his daughter had been taken to New York. “I do not know where New York is,” he said.

Last week, the Los Angeles Times revealed that prosecutors plan to use an expedited prosecution program, known as “Operation Streamline,” to try to charge as many border crossers as possible. Under the program, which has already been instituted in Arizona and Texas, dozens of immigrants can be arraigned, convicted, and sentenced in minutes.

For years, the judges in the Southern District of California have resisted efforts by federal prosecutors to institute “Operation Streamline” in the district. The judiciary, its justices argued, should not conform to the whims of the executive branch of the government. But at a meeting of the Criminal Case Management Committee, which was convened by the district’s chief judge, Barry Moskowitz, to address the rising caseloads, the Southern District judges reportedly acquiesced. Prosecutors want the program to start in one month, according to a defense attorney who attended the meeting, but defender groups have voiced serious concerns about the program with the court.

Meanwhile, the scene at the courthouse remains hectic: Defendants arrive in a relatively steady stream, despite the delays in processing that led to some dismissals. The rattle of chains is never far off, as the defendants shed their shackles in a hallway next to the courtroom before being led into the jury box by a phalanx of marshals.

As the judge sets bail in each illegal entry case, public defenders stress the connections these defendants have to the United States. But even if family members are able to post bail—which can reach as high as $5,000— the defendants will rarely get to stay in the United States to fight their criminal cases. Instead, they will be transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody and put in deportation proceedings. Once an immigrant is deported, his or her case is dismissed, and the bond is repaid to family members. But, as one defense attorney explained, that’s not a common outcome. For the most part, she said, families can’t make bail and the defendants languish in federal custody until they take a plea deal. Many of the defendants have prior deportations on their records, meaning that if they were to try to bring their misdemeanor cases to trial, prosecutors could file superseding indictments that would charge them with illegal re-entry, a felony, incentivizing them all the more to take quick plea deals.

As the number of immigrants held in federal criminal custody increases, the U.S. Marshal Service has had to find new places to hold immigrants, which often means sending them hundreds of miles away from their lawyers. In addition to a federal jail in San Diego, as well as two nearby privately run detention facilities, marshals have recently begun housing arrested immigrants at the Santa Ana Jail, Orange County Jail, and San Bernardino County Jail, leaving public defenders to rely on videoconferencing to speak with their clients, many of whom are facing perilous conditions in overcrowded jails.

Other immigrants in both the criminal and immigration systems are being housed at the Otay Mesa Detention Center near the border, run by the private company CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America.

“The rise in enforcement has been a huge boon to corporations,” said Nicole Ramos, director of the Border Rights Project of Al Otro Lado, an organization that provides legal assistance to refugees. “These immigrants are forced into exploitative working conditions where they’re essentially coerced to work in the prison for a dollar a day.”

An ongoing class-action lawsuit filed last year by immigrants being held in detention at Otay Mesa alleges they are being paid at most $1.50 per day, or sometimes not at all, for their work as kitchen staff, janitors, barbers, and other occupations.

On May 31, immigrants detained at Otay Mesa released letters detailing their abuse in the facility. “When we ask for medical attention, they do not treat us, and many of us have pains, wounds, and the officers don’t pay attention to us and ignore us,” the letter reads. Amanda Sluss Gilchrist, a spokeswoman for CoreCivic, told The Appeal, “CoreCivic cares deeply about every person in our care. Our immigration facilities, including Otay Mesa, are monitored very closely by the government.”

"These immigrants are forced into exploitative working conditions where they’re essentially coerced to work in the prison for a dollar a day."

From the moment of arrest, it appears, immigrants are being plunged into a system that is chaotic and disorderly. Immigrants arrested on the weekend, for instance, may have to sleep on the floor of a Border Patrol station, Stitt, the attorney at Federal Defenders, explained.

“It’s unfortunately commonplace for people to spend multiple nights at either a port of entry or an immigration station that is not equipped to handle housing people in this way,” he said. “It is routine to hear stories of people who are locked in rooms with many other people. There’s no place to sleep. The lights are on all day, there’s no hygiene products for women at times. … You sleep on a bench. You sleep on the floor if there’s no space on a bench.”

The administration’s ‘mission impossible’

The zero-tolerance policy also raises questions about whether federal prosecutors will be forced to shift resources away from prosecuting serious crimes, like human smuggling or drug trafficking, in order to handle the relentless flood of misdemeanor cases.

Writing for the Washington Post, Alan Bersin, Nate Bruggeman, and Ben Rohrbaugh, three former officials at Customs and Border Protection, warned that not only will the agency be overwhelmed by this new policy, but that U.S. attorneys’ offices will shift priorities for prosecutors. “Already handling a massive workload, including drug- and human-trafficking cases, these prosecutors focus their time and effort on cases that have the greatest impact on public safety,” the trio wrote. “The administration’s new “mission impossible” will force prosecutors to misallocate resources to economic migrants; but even then, there will not be enough resources to get the job done. In the meantime, organized crime, drug smuggling, and financial crimes will receive short shrift.”

For example, Stitt described a case he worked on two weeks ago in which a woman was arrested and charged with misdemeanor illegal entry after being found in the trunk of a car as she was being smuggled through the border.

“Typically, the government would charge the driver. Smuggling someone into the United States for financial gain, which is the reason everyone does it, carries with it a minimum three-year sentence,” Stitt told The Appeal. “In this case they prosecuted the woman in the trunk, [who had] no prior criminal history, a first-grade education, and who was just coming to work.” They did not prosecute the driver, he speculated, because the driver’s case was more complex, would require more resources, and require them to hold the person in the trunk as a witness instead of prosecuting her. “The focus goes from the driver to the passenger, because the driver had lawful permission to enter the United States. Not the passenger,” Stitt explained.

Over the past six months, as the total number of misdemeanor illegal entry prosecutions has climbed significantly, the number of human smuggling prosecutions has remained relatively steady, while prosecutions for drug trafficking have dropped precipitously, according to data on federal prosecutions in the Southern District of California obtained by The Appeal. Between November and April, prosecutions for misdemeanor illegal entry rose 65 percent. At the same time, the number of prosecutions for human smuggling rose by 10 percent, but the number of prosecutions for drug smuggling over the border dropped by nearly a third.

Chart by Ethan Corey

Kelly Thornton, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, said the rise in misdemeanor prosecutions wouldn’t hamper other efforts. “As one of five Southwest border districts, immigration and narcotics trafficking are significant priorities of this office,” she wrote in an email. “The Department of Justice has given our district the necessary resources to prosecute these crimes and that’s what we are doing. Within the last six months we have received funding from the Department to hire 10 additional attorneys. “

Still, the sheer number of increased prosecutions of misdemeanor illegal entry shouldn’t be understated—in fiscal year 2017 (Oct. 1, 2016 to Sept. 30, 2017), the Southern District of California prosecuted 590 cases. During the first four months of 2018, that number had reached 777. It looks to only rise with the introduction of the expedited prosecution program.

Ferrara, the head of the Criminal Justice Act Panel, is unconvinced that this new policy will do anything to deter immigrants from attempting to enter the United States, particularly because many have deep ties to the country already.

“I saw a young man today who was pleading to a 1325 [illegal entry] and getting sentenced, who has grown up here in the United States; he has two United States citizen children who live here,” Ferrara told The Appeal. “He does not have the infrastructure or support in Mexico to set up a new life there, and everyone he knows and loves is here in the United States. That’s someone who it is going to be hard to picture them just giving up and not trying to come back and see their family. I don’t know where this exercise is going to take us, but it isn’t taking us in a humane direction.”

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