PHOENIX - More prosecutors and judges will be assigned to help whittle away at a backlog of immigration cases along the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that 35 new assistant U.S. attorney jobs had been created to help speed prosecution of illegal border crossings and immigrant smuggling in the four states bordering Mexico.
The department said the new positions in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas were part of the zero-tolerance policy Sessions earlier announced to deal with a surge in apprehensions along the border.
To deal with the existing backlog of cases, 18 supervising judges are being assigned to hear cases in immigration courts near the border, both in person and through video teleconferencing.
James McHenry, director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, said the move represented a roughly 50 percent increase in the number of immigration judges hearing cases.
McHenry's office mobilized over 100 immigration judges to Department of Homeland Security detention facilities across the country between March and September 2017, including along the southwest border.
The office in October estimated that the mobilized immigration judges had helped complete about 2,700 additional cases.
"By deploying these additional resources to the southwest border, the Justice Department and the Trump administration take yet another step in protecting our nation, its borders and its citizens,'' Sessions said.
Session's get-tough attitude on immigration has been translated in federal court into the expansion of a decade-old program called Operation Streamline, which sees immigrants accused of entering the U.S. illegally generally complete what was once a months-long prosecution in a single day.
Critics of the program say it violates due process and does not deter repeat offenses.