Drug-smuggling cases from border arrests are flooding the San Diego court system as a result of Trump’s policy to fully enforce immigration law.
Federal authorities are cracking down on all illegal immigration, including first-time offenses and reentry violations, a felony. According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, 81.6% of immigration cases involve illegal reentry.
The increase of drug cases in state courts “is driven by the emphasis on prosecuting all immigration violators in federal court,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reports, “a policy that is soaking up time and attention of federal authorities, leading to more drug cases spilling over to the state court system.”
Since U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in May that anyone who enters the United States illegally would be charged, 96 drug cases have been filed by federal agencies in San Diego courts compared to 47 at the same time last year.
“All the cases were filed in the county’s South Bay courthouse in Chula Vista, the court that is closest to the border where the arrests by the border law enforcement agencies take place,” Tanya Sierra of the District Attorney’s office said. “Most of the cases are for smuggling ‘white powder’ drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin, and nearly three of every four involve more than a kilo of drugs.”
Local authorities anticipated the burden caused by zero tolerance, as they have tried to make the process more efficient. Not long after Sessions made his announcement, “a Justice Department supervisor in San Diego sent an email to border authorities warning that immigration cases ‘will occupy substantially more of our resources,’ USA Today reported. “He wrote that the U.S. Attorney’s Office there was ‘diverting staff, both support and attorneys, accordingly.’”
As the state courts pick up the slack in processing drug cases, border patrol continues to seize drugs flowing across the border. In a typical day, Customs and Border Protection reports it confiscates 5,863 pounds of narcotics.
On June 21, border agents in Alamogordo, New Mexico, seized more than $1.1 million in narcotics that were being smuggled across the border in a wrecked Honda. Last year, the El Paso Sector seized $35 million in narcotics.
In Laredo, Texas, border agents worked with the police department to arrest seven illegal immigrants who were hoarding several bundles of marijuana in a stash house. At the Laredo point of entry, agents seized hard narcotics worth more than $636,000. The first arrest was of a 66-year-old male Mexican citizen who was smuggling 15 packages containing 36 pounds of cocaine. The second was a 31-year-old male Mexican citizen who was carrying 18 pounds of crystal methamphetamine.
By enforcing all laws at the border, it is common sense that the caseload would increase dramatically, spilling over from the federal to state courts. Drug smuggling continues, as does illegal immigration with a high number of reentry violations by people with criminal backgrounds. The answer isn’t to ignore one law to more easily process another, but to provide the court systems with the resources they need to protect the United States.