171 organizations call on Loretta Lynch to stop locking up deportees

While Bill O’Reilly uses the tragic shooting of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle to call for harsher sentences for deportees who have returned to the U.S., 171 groups are calling for the Department of Justice to stop prosecuting the charge of “illegal reentry” altogether.

In a letter sent to Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Tuesday, organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and National Council of La Raza argued that “these prosecutions further none of DOJ’s own prosecutorial priorities—national security, violent crime, financial fraud, and cases that protect our most vulnerable communities.”

Prosecutions of illegal reentry have accounted for a shocking 48% of the growth in federal convictions over the last two decades, the organizations note. Illegal reentry has become the most prosecuted crimes in the U.S.

The DOJ “should not be in the business of immigration enforcement, particularly when the strategies are unproven and highly problematic in their implementation,” the letter reads. Immigrants-rights groups were joined in their call by faith-based groups and representatives of border communities, too.

The letter comes just weeks after Fox News’ O’Reilly introduced the idea of legislation he calls Kate’s Law, which would impose a mandatory five-year sentence on any immigrant that returns to the U.S. unlawfully after a prior deportation. Both Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Matt Salmon have introduced their own versions of the law in Congress.

The problem? We already impose prison sentences on immigrants who have returned to the U.S. unlawfully—and the government can’t prove that doing so actually prevents people from coming back. In fact, Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the undocumented immigrant who allegedly killed Steinle, was sentenced to more than ten years in prison for illegal re-entry charges prior to the shooting. Instead of being deported after that sentence, as federal law requires, Lopez-Sanchez was released— a fact which has left federal and local authorities pointing fingers.

But instead of addressing why Lopez-Sanchez was wrongfully released, O’Reilly has seized on the opportunity to push a law which would double the size of a troubling shadow prison system run entirely by private prison companies.

“I have departed from my usual analytical job and become an advocate to keep criminal aliens out of the country,” O’Reilly said on his program recently.

Advocates say that evidence the law would accomplish that is slim. In a statement submitted to Congress, Human Rights Watch argued that the proposed law would “cruelly condemn” thousands of parents, asylum seekers, and other immigrants who “pose no danger to society,” while failing to deter individuals like Lopez-Sanchez.

We didn’t always lock up immigrants for illegal reentry. In 2005, the federal government decided to ramp up prosecutions under an internal program called Operation Streamline, and the number of cases has risen over 183 percent since its implementation. The average sentence for illegal reentry is 18 months and roughly two-thirds of immigrants in our federal prison system are serving time for immigration related charges.

A Fusion investigation found that more than 23,000 immigrants a night are locked up in an immigrant prison system which has funneled billions of taxpayer dollars into the private prison industry. Fusion found that many government officials who were in charge when the shadow prison system was built now have lucrative posts within the private prison industry. The ACLU says the immigrant prisons are squalid, rife with abuse, and use solitary confinement in excess.

“There’s broad consensus that this is the worst thing you could do. It’s a huge step backwards,” said Bob Libal, the Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership, one of the 171 organizations to sign the letter to the DOJ in reference to the Kate’s Law proposal.

“Prosecuting these cases has been enormously wasteful in terms of taxpayer dollars and people’s lives.”

Read the letter here: