The Justice Department is sending a battalion of federal prosecutors and immigration judges to the Southwest border to deal with a backlog of cases made worse by the so-called “caravan” of Central Americans that arrived at the U.S. border days ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Wednesday.
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“We are not going to let this country be overwhelmed,” he said in brief remarks at the Justice Department in Washington. “People are not going to caravan or otherwise stampede our border,” he added, echoing comments made by President Donald Trump.
Scores of men, women and children, fleeing from their violence-wracked home countries, arrived at U.S. border crossings late last week looking to enter the United States by seeking asylum. Only a small fraction of them, however, have been processed and let into the United States so far, in large part because the federal facilities that would house the immigrants seeking asylum had “reached capacity,” according to U.S. officials.
“The number of inadmissible individuals we are able to process in a day varies based on the complexity of the cases, resources available, medical needs, translation requirements, holding/detention space, overall port volume and enforcement actions,” Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said in a statement Monday.
Now the Justice Department is moving 35 assistant U.S. attorneys and 18 immigration judges to the Southwest border to help process cases and “to prosecute illegal entries into our country,” Sessions said, noting that the additional immigration judges “will be about a 50 percent increase in the number of immigration judges who will be handling the asylum claims.”
Sessions insisted the move to help process asylum claims will actually help stop others from trying to enter the country under similar circumstances.
“We’re sending a message worldwide: Don’t come illegally,” he said. “Make your claim to enter America in the lawful way, and wait your turn.”
In a recent interview with ABC News, McAleenan said 70 to 80 percent of those who claim asylum at the border are let into the country because they meet the "low threshold" of having a possible case to make. In the end, however, only about 30 percent actually end up being able to prove they need asylum, and that is a "critical gap in the system,” according to the commissioner.
After so many seeking asylum are let into the country based on the preliminary determination, “there's a two- to five- to seven-year wait, and the majority of those folks don't actually show up for a hearing.”
“If the system doesn't have a better process behind us, people will still come," he warned.