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 GillibrandSenate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers Senate Democrat introduces bill to protect food supply It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process MORE (D-N.Y.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: National Portrait Gallery's Kim Sajet says this era rewiring people's relationship with culture, art; Trump's war with Twitter heats up The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Cuomo rings the first opening bell since March House Democrats make initial ad buys in battleground states MORE (R-Iowa) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyHouse punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate House cancels planned Thursday vote on FISA Frustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote  MORE (D-Vermont) wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Pentagon watchdog sidelined by Trump resigns | Plan would reportedly bring troops in Afghanistan back by Election Day | Third service member dies from COVID-19 Trump wants troops in Afghanistan back stateside by Election Day: report 'Never Trump' Republicans: Fringe, or force to be reckoned with? 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.”