Published February 08, 2010 @ 03:22PM PT"Neither meritorious nor reasonable" -- not the zingiest barbs out there, but considering they were hurled by a federal judge questioning the actions of U.S. prosecutors, not too milquetoast, either.
In fact, by making those comments, Judge Sam Sparks, of Austin, TX, may have become the first federal district judge to formally protest the growing trend of criminally prosecuting undocumented immigrants. After all, says Sparks, many of the immigrants he sees have committed no major crime, save to try and reside in the United States without permission. So why lock them up (helping fuel a $1.7 billion prison population in the process) at all?
In one case Sparks has faced inside his courtroom, taxpayers paid over $13,350 to jail three Mexican citizens who crossed over the U.S. border without authorization. (And that's not even getting into the costs associated with prosecutors, defense lawyers and court employees.) None of the men had any significant criminal history, Sparks says.
Last year, a Freedom of Information Act request found that out of a U.S. immigrant detainee population of 32,000, nearly 60% had no criminal convictions on their record at all -- not even for low-grade crimes like trespassing or illegal entry.
As far as Austin immigration lawyer Daniel Kowalski knows, Sparks's on-the-record objections, which he filed in an order on Friday, are unique.
Though the build-up in immigrant detentions has been happening for years, what Sparks is protesting is comparatively new. Two years ago, someone without a significant criminal history who tried to cross into the United States without authorization might have been deported, but not prosecuted. Thanks to Operation Streamline, though -- a Bush-era project that aimed to amp up charges against immigration violations in certain border regions -- federal prosecution of immigration violations jumped 14% last year.
Musing on the situation, Sparks got still more heated, calling the vast waste of expenses "simply mind-boggling."
No kidding. It's a pretty bizarre system you decide to punish people for entering the United States by in turn making them stay in the United States, in jail -- and on the taxpayer's dime, as well.