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February 06, 2019

Statement of ABA President Bob Carlson Re: Immigration prosecutions

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6, 2019 – On Jan. 28, the American Bar Association’s 596-member House of Delegates passed a resolution urging the U.S. Attorney General to rescind the “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting all men and women who enter the United States without authorization and to end the expedited mass prosecutions of immigrants.

The resolution also requests that federal judges ensure that every defendant charged with misdemeanor illegal entry is represented by counsel, has adequate opportunity to consult with a lawyer and that every guilty plea is knowing, intelligent and voluntary. The resolution urges Congress to provide sufficient funding for courts to take these measures and to recognize that every defendant is entitled to effective assistance of counsel.

The ABA resolution is based, in part, on evidence that demonstrates the “zero tolerance” policy requires prosecutors to spend more time on misdemeanor illegal-entry cases and less time on more serious felony cases. The policy to prosecute immigrants en masse presents serious due process concerns. Too often, immigrants who are prosecuted together in court have just minutes to consult an attorney and they have no real ability to understand the purpose of the hearing and its consequences. In this setting, it is simply not possible for judges to determine if every defendant has knowingly waived their rights, understood the charges against them and voluntarily pleaded guilty.

Today, I have sent a letter expressing these concerns to Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker. It is available online here. The ABA House of Delegates resolution and report is available here.

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