Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro sees courtroom process for undocumented immigrants
Behind the glass doors of the Reynaldo G. Garza and Filemon B. Vela courthouse in Brownsville, dangling chains are heard inside of a courtroom where dozens of apprehended immigrants fearfully wait to stand in front of a magistrate judge for crossing into the United States illegally.
A process that former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julian Castro, was able to get a first-hand look Monday morning.
"It's the first time that I've seen the process and right away some of the things that I can tell is that the system is overworked," Castro said.
During the hearing, just over 50 immigrants from Mexico Guatemala, and other Central-American countries filled up the courtroom. All with headphones hooked to their ears, chains around their wrist and some on their ankles, awaiting their name to be called. But instead of being called individually, they were called all at once. Castro says, during his observation he wondered if the defendants are really getting justice.
"Very few of them graduated from high school so you know that they probably do not have a clear understanding of what's happening," he explained. "They're not raising their hands about the instructions about their lawyer, so what's happening is, is there really justice or is it just running through the paces. This is a reason why we need a comprehensive immigration reform."
Castro explained a comprehensive immigration reform would ensure the proceedings will have some meaning by taking more time on each individual case.
This is all comes as part of his trip in the Rio Grande Valley. On Sunday, he stood outside the Processing Center in McAllen, where he expressed his thoughts towards President Trump's Zero -Tolerance Policy. He said, from his findings, he's convinced more than half of the defendants are not aware of what is happening to them. Something, he believes is unjust.
"These proceedings don't give you ample opportunity to assert your claim of asylum properly. I imagine there are a bunch of people who come into this process and don't know what to expect and leave it, [...] there's a lot of room for improvement," he explained.
We spoke with Marjorie A. Meyers, Federal Public Defender for the Southern District of Texas, who said that there is confusion when being charged with illegal entry, but that federal public defenders do interview those that are in custody and explain what is happening and what their options are if they plead guilty or not.