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Pallone Leads Letter from 24 Member of Congress Urging DOD Not to Use Military Attorneys to Enforce “Zero Tolerance Policy”

July 24, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today Congressmen Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), Ted Lieu (CA-33), Anthony Brown (MD-04), and José E. Serrano (NY-15) led a letter from 24 Members of Congress to Secretary of Defense James Mattis opposing the recent decision to send Judge Advocate Generals (JAGs) to prosecute immigration cases on the southern border.

As part of the “zero tolerance” immigration policy being implemented by the Trump administration, the Department of Justice recently made a formal request to the Department of Defense to use active duty JAGs to assist in criminally prosecuting undocumented border crossings. Sec. Mattis then approved 21 active duty JAGs for 179-day tours in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico for these non-military purposes. Directing JAGs to practice in a legal field in which they have not been explicitly trained does little to ensure justice is secured and is unfair for the detainees being prosecuted.

The text of the letter is below and the PDF is attached.

Dear Secretary Mattis:

We are writing to urge the Department of Defense (DoD) to reverse its recent decision to deploy 21 active duty Judge Advocate Generals (JAGs) to Arizona, Texas and New Mexico to prosecute immigration cases. This proposal follows an inappropriate and unprecedented trend in the use of DoD resources at the southern border that must be corrected.

JAGs have consistently proven themselves as effective counsels through their expert legal training under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Training under the UCMJ ensures they are able to fulfill their critical mission of providing the branches of the armed services with the promotion of justice and the maintenance of order and discipline. However, this mission has little, if any, connection to what is currently occurring on the U.S. southern border. Directing JAGs to practice in a legal field in which they have not been explicitly trained does little to ensure justice is secured and is unfair for the detainees being prosecuted. The improvised training in immigration law being offered to these lawyers is hardly sufficient to ensure they are adequately attuned to the sensitivities and issues facing asylum seekers and immigrant families.

Additionally, the decision to send JAGs to the southern border creates further strains on a military justice system that already lacks essential personnel and resources that it requires. While Congress has worked with DoD in recent years to address shortages in well-trained and experienced military litigators, there is still a vital need for counsels and prosecutors with trial experience. This need will only be further compounded by deploying JAGs to support unrelated Department of Justice prosecutions.

We once again urge you to reverse your decision to send the 21 JAG trial counsel to the southern border and ask that you do not use any other DoD resources to detain or criminally prosecute asylum seekers.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,