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Expert Questions Sessions' Comments On Oregon Drug Case

<p>Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at the Department of Justice on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018.</p>

Jose Luis Magana

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at the Department of Justice on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018.

Spanish version (Versión en español): Experto Cuestiona Comentarios De Sessions Sobre Un Caso De Tráfico De Drogas En Oregon

The final defendant in a robust heroin trafficking conspiracy was sentenced in Portland this week, and it attracted the attention of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

On Wednesday, the U.S. attorney's office in Oregon announced that 36-year-old Misraim Israel Briones Pasos of Mexico was sentenced in Oregon to more than 12 years in prison for his involvement in trafficking hundreds of pounds of black tar heroin from Nayarit, Mexico, to Portland.

The trafficking scheme involved 22 people across four states and Mexico, a point of particular interest to Sessions, who reiterated a common claim made by President Donald Trump and others in his administration: that drugs are flowing into the United States in droves from the southern border, a claim experts have refuted.

"Traffickers from Nayarit, like these defendants, have become notorious across the United States for their effectiveness in dispensing cheap and powerful heroin," Sessions said in a press release. "We will never know the full extent of the consequences of their actions. The sentences handed down in this case, though they cannot compare with the damage done to our nation by the defendants, will help keep the people of this country safe."

Sessions' comments are part of a pattern under the Trump administration to respond publicly to individual criminal cases involving immigrants. Experts say the goal is to help legitimize President Donald Trump's immigration agenda — one that focuses on security along the border with Mexico.

Eighty six percent of heroin captured in the United States in 2016 was caught by customs agents at ports of entry rather than by agents at the U.S. border, said Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration and policy analyst at the Libertarian-leaning Cato Institute.

"There's been a push in the last four to five months to try to link heroin in the United States and its associated problems with immigration and with the border as a way to sort of galvanize more support for the border wall and for hiring more border patrol agents," Nowrasteh said. "I see this as just another means by which they’re pushing for the goal of basically a border wall."

Nowrasteh said it's uncommon to see someone in Sessions' position responding to specific cases such as this one.

"I can’t recall the last time I’ve read an attorney general commenting on a local or state level drug bust like this," he said.

Portland has been on Sessions' radar before, including following the case of Sergio Martinez. Martinez had been in the country illegally after being deported more than 20 times before he allegedly  went on to assault two Portland women before being arrested again. Sessions  has also criticized jurisdictions such as Multnomah County for their sanctuary policies.

Sanctuary jurisdictions have pushed back, saying such policies actually make their communities safer.

"I see this entirely of a politicization of an issue by Attorney General Sessions to shift the conversation away from drugs and toward border security, which has very little to do with drugs in the way that he's talking about it," Nowrasteh said.

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Ericka Cruz Guevarra