Senators 'deeply troubled' military lawyers being used for immigration cases

Senators 'deeply troubled' military lawyers being used for immigration cases
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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 GillibrandAdvocacy groups decry Trump's 'anti-family policies' ahead of White House summit This bipartisan plan is the most progressive approach to paid parental leave Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' MORE (D-N.Y.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstDemocrats spend big to put Senate in play Houston police chief excoriates McConnell, Cornyn and Cruz on gun violence GOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements MORE (R-Iowa) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyHorowitz offers troubling picture of FBI's Trump campaign probe Horowitz: 'We found no bias' in decision to open probe Horowitz: 'Very concerned' about FBI leaks to Giuliani MORE (D-Vermont) wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThreatening foreign states with sanctions can backfire Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Amazon to challenge Pentagon's 'war cloud' decision in federal court 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.

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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.”