The Christian Science Monitor

With 'zero tolerance,' new strain on already struggling immigration courts

In a federal courtroom in the border city of McAllen, Texas, two weeks ago, 74 migrants waited as Judge J. Scott Thacker confirmed their names and countries of origin. Tired and nervous, the migrants were wearing the clothes they had been arrested in, translation headsets, and ankle chains that clinked as some of them fidgeted.

After having their rights and potential punishments explained to them to them, Judge Thacker asked the seven rows of migrants – mostly from Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala – how they wanted to plead. “Culpable,” they all answered. Judge Hacker sentenced almost all of them, row by row, to time already served and a $10 fine.

At one point, a man from Honduras separated from his son explained why they had traveled to the United States. Thacker listened, then addressed the whole room.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am not a [specialist] immigration judge; I am not in the immigration system,” he said. “Once you enter the immigration system you can explain your situation to them.”

In immigration court in San Antonio, a few hours north, Judge Charles McCullough is working through cases from the summer of 2017.

Over three hours, he moves smoothly through hearings for a dozen people. One man accepts voluntary departure to Mexico, but then things get complicated. One case has to be

720,000-case backlogComplex area of lawStreamlining the dockets

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Christian Science Monitor

The Christian Science Monitor4 min read
Please Touch The Fine Art: Museums Embrace A Hands-on Approach
Museums and artists are collaborating with visually impaired individuals to create multisensory exhibits that go beyond sight.
The Christian Science Monitor2 min read
Semicolons Part 2: When To Use Them
We use many punctuation marks intuitively. Periods, for example, land at the end of sentences without any problem. But semicolons? Not so easy.
The Christian Science Monitor12 min read
Melinda Gates: What She’s Learned
How her approach to philanthropy, and her own life, has changed after $50 billion of giving.