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 Elizabeth GillibrandOvernight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program Sanders targets gig economy as part of new labor plan Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill MORE (D-N.Y.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstErnst town hall in Iowa gets contentious over guns Air Force probe finds no corroboration of sexual assault allegations against Trump pick Gun control activists set to flex muscle in battle for Senate MORE (R-Iowa) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyAppropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions Graham moves controversial asylum bill through panel; Democrats charge he's broken the rules MORE (D-Vermont) wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOnly Donald Trump has a policy for Afghanistan New Pentagon report blames Trump troop withdrawal for ISIS surge in Iraq and Syria Mattis returns to board of General Dynamics 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.”