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The story behind a viral photo showing a 'mass trial' of dozens of illegal immigrants

Image source: John Moore/Getty

A recently leaked courtroom image showing dozens of illegal immigrants in orange jumpsuits inside a Texas courtroom is garnering a lot of attention amid ongoing national debate about illegal immigration and the rights illegal immigrants have inside U.S. jurisdiction.

What is the story behind the image?

According to The Intercept, the image was secretly taken inside a Pecos, Texas, federal courtroom sometime last month during a "mass trial" by someone who felt morally conflicted by the courtroom proceedings. Photography is typically forbidden in federal courtrooms.

Mass trials are not new. In fact, they happened during the previous two administrations. However, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, mass trials have become more frequent after Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to criminally charge each and every immigrant who illegally enters the U.S.

Sessions' order expanded Operation Streamline, a program that began in 2005, which is noted for being a "zero-tolerance" approach to illegal immigration.

Debbie Nathan, the reporter who wrote the Intercept's story, explained that during mass trials, public defenders often only have minutes to meet with each defendant before they face a judge. That means the immigrants' opportunity to receive a fair trial is severely hampered.

"It feels like an assembly line. It's a mass production of guilty pleas," Nathan told the Houston Chronicle.

Does it get worse?

Yes. Many of these immigrants have been separated from their children, a story that garnered national attention last month. And even though the law requires parents and children be joined together before deportation, that has recently not always been the case, instilling fear in worried parents that they may never see their children again.

During a recent trial Nathan attended, Federal Magistrate Judge Ronald G. Morgan told U.S. attorneys that "if there's a hell, that's probably what it looks like," regarding the government separating children from parents who entered the U.S. illegally.

When confirming the government's supposed policy of reuniting parents and children upon deportation, the judge instructed the attorney: "You'd best make sure that's the case. Have a seat."

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