Pentagon sending military lawyers to prosecute immigration cases


Twenty-one military lawyers are being sent to Arizona, Texas and New Mexico to help prosecute illegal immigration case, the Defense Department told MSNBC on Wednesday night.

The lawyers, who are to have "criminal trial experience," will be appointed as full-time special assistant U.S. attorneys for up to 179 days, or around six months, the Defense Department said in confirming the plan, which was first reported by MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show.

"The plan is outlined in internal Defense Department emails obtained by MSNBC. According to the emails — which appear to be dated last month and one of which is labeled "An urgent request" — the Justice Department sought applicants for the positions "while we staff up" with permanent assistant U.S. attorneys.

According to the documents, the military lawyers will be given basic training in immigration law and federal criminal procedure to assist regular federal prosecutors in Yuma, Arizona; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and El Paso, Del Rio, Laredo and McAllen in Texas.

The Washington Post reported earlier Wednesday that the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement ended a grant program last month that paid for some detained migrant children to have lawyers while they are in government custody.

In response, a wildly successful private fundraising effort was launched to raise money for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, a nonprofit legal advocacy group in Texas that provides lawyers for immigrant children and families.

The program, called Reunite an Immigrant Parent With Their Child, began over the weekend with a goal of raising $1,500, which organizers said would be enough to post bond for a single migrant parent, who could then, in theory, pick up his or her child from federal custody while awaiting child.

By Wednesday night, however, the campaign had raised almost $15 million and had reset its target to $20 million.

"We are collectively revulsed at what's happening to immigrant families on our southern border," the organizers, Charlotte and Dave Willner, two former Facebook employees, wrote in their solicitation. "In times when we often think that the news can't possibly get worse, it does."