New Mexico is “extremely efficient compared to what I have to deal with in El Paso,” said Cori Harbour-Valdez, an attorney under federal contract to defend detained immigrants. “How quickly things get done is a function of the U.S. Attorney’s Office fast-track program.”
Today, getting apprehended at the New Mexico border means being charged with a felony and serving about a month in jail, thanks in part to a “fast-track” program that leads to speedy pleas and, ultimately, shorter sentences. In other border districts, it can mean misdemeanor charges but serving up to six months in jail.
The U.S. Department of Justice in 2003 set the criteria for fast-track programs to be used at the discretion of border prosecutors “in southwestern border districts with an exceptional volume of immigration cases,” according to a 2012 memorandum updating the guidelines.
Fast-track is only for felony illegal re-entry cases — not misdemeanors — and requires a plea agreement within 30 days of the defendant’s being taken into custody that exchanges a guilty plea for a potentially shorter sentence, hence the speed with which New Mexico handles its felony immigration docket.