Monday, May 16, 2016

Immigration offenders jam federal court in NM

Carlos Morales had been in jail five weeks when he faced U.S. Judge Robert Brack in federal court one morning. He was third in a line of about 20 men who would all be sentenced for a similar crime: illegal re-entry into the country following deportation.  Brack’s docket of immigration cases has ranked among the largest in the country. He sees about a dozen immigration cases a day, three days a week, every week. When Judge Kenneth Gonzales was appointed in 2013 to the court in Las Cruces, Brack said he assumed he would see his immigration caseload reduced. It stayed the same. Gonzales’ docket grew to nearly the size of Brack’s. Other federal judges, including from Albuquerque, began rotating into the court to help. Criminal felony immigration cases in New Mexico federal courts have increased 80 percent in five years to 3,749 in 2015 from 2,078 cases in 2011, according to U.S. court statistics compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Each of the five federal border districts handles immigration cases differently, and New Mexico takes the unusual approach of charging nearly 100 percent of re-entry cases as felonies and not allowing defendants to plea bargain down to a lesser charge. But sentences meted out in New Mexico tend to be shorter than in other districts. Which approach is more effective as a deterrent is still unclear; what is clear is that repeat deportees continue to fill federal court dockets. The Las Cruces court handles the vast majority of the district’s immigration cases. Brack alone sentenced about 1,800 cases last year; Gonzales saw about 1,600 cases, mostly immigration. Visiting judges, including Judge William “Chip” Johnson from Albuquerque, picked up another several hundred...more

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