Three senators, including one Republican, are asking the Pentagon to rethink its decision to send military lawyers to help prosecute immigration cases.
“For years, Congress has worked with the department on reforming the military justice system and providing the services with the resources to support the critical mission of promoting justice and maintaining good order and discipline within the armed forces,” Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandOvernight Energy & Environment — Biden makes return to pre-Trump national monument boundaries official Biden signs bill to help victims of 'Havana syndrome' Lawmakers using leadership PACs as 'slush funds' to live lavish lifestyles: report MORE (D-N.Y.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstDemocrat Mike Franken launches challenge to Grassley in Iowa Trump heads to Iowa as 2024 chatter grows Photos of the Week: Manchin, California oil spill and a podium dog MORE (R-Iowa) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Democrats address reports that clean energy program will be axed Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Colin Powell's death highlights risks for immunocompromised On The Money — Democrats tee up Senate spending battles with GOP MORE (D-Vermont) wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE on Thursday night.
“We are, therefore, deeply troubled by the department’s decision to send twenty-one active and reserve JAGs to the border on temporary orders to prosecute immigration cases,” they added.
News broke Wednesday night that the Pentagon had approved a request from the Justice Department to send 21 Judge Advocate Generals (JAGs) to the U.S.-Mexico border to help clear a backlog of immigration cases.
That news came amid an uproar over the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that starts the process of criminal prosecution for all illegal border crossers, leading to more than 2,000 children being separated from their parents.
The JAGs will be appointed special assistant U.S. attorneys to help prosecute misdemeanor improper entry and felony illegal reentry cases. The temporary assignments are expected to last about six months.
In their letter, the senators said they are concerned the lawyers are being used for a non-military mission for which they have no training.
“While JAGs currently serve as special assistant United States attorneys throughout the country, this occurs in districts with military installations and involves working on cases with a clear military nexus such as theft from a commissary or civilian DUIs on a military base,” they wrote. “However, unlike those situations, these twenty-one JAGs are being directed to practice wholly outside of their training, within the vast and complex immigration arena.”
The senators also said that JAGs with trial experience are “desperately needed” as prosecutors, defense lawyers or special victims counsel in the military’s most serious criminal cases. For example, the senators said the Pentagon told them last month that having special victims counsel for domestic violence or child abuse victims would “require additional resourcing and end strength and risks a significant reduction in the quality of services currently provided.”
“Pulling twenty-one trial counsel from military courtrooms to prosecute immigration cases is an inappropriate misapplication of military personnel,” the lawmakers wrote. “We urge you to maintain these resources within the military justice system.”