U.S. attorneys around the country will devote more resources to prosecuting immigration offenses, including illegal re-entry to the country, document fraud, identity theft and smuggling undocumented immigrants across the border, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday.
“For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country, be forewarned: This is a new era,” Sessions told Customs and Border Protection agents and officers in Nogales, Arizona, according to prepared remarks. “This is the Trump era. The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws, and the catch-and-release practices of old are over.”
President Donald Trump vowed to stop unauthorized immigration and expel many undocumented people from the country, and he picked an ally in Sessions, who spent much of his Senate career advocating for tougher enforcement. Now he’s getting his chance and is shaping the Department of Justice’s mission to expand its emphasis on prosecuting undocumented immigrants. Every U.S. attorney’s office in the country ― even far from the border ― will now be required to have a person devoted to coordinating enforcement on immigration, Sessions announced.
The policies he laid out are almost exclusively focused on non-violent crimes, such as illegally re-entering the country, entering a fraudulent marriage, document fraud and identity theft. U.S. attorneys will now be required to consider prosecution for each. Every adult apprehended at the border will be detained.
Sessions painted the matter in stark terms, saying that gangs and cartels “turn cities and suburbs into war zones, that rape and kill innocent citizens, and who profit by smuggling poison and other human beings across our borders.”
“Depravity and violence are their calling cards, including brutal machete attacks and beheadings,” Sessions said in prepared remarks. “It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand against this filth.”
When he delivered the speech, Sessions did not use the word “filth,” saying only “where we first take our stand.”
The Department of Justice did not provide details on how these efforts will be funded and whether there will be additional resources so the renewed focus on immigration-related enforcement on nonviolent officials will not lead to lower levels of prosecutions and investigation of other crimes. DOJ spokesman Ian Prior said Trump’s “budget blue print made clear the Department’s commitment to public safety, combatting violent crime, drug trafficking, and illegal immigration” and that further details will be in the agency’s budget “this spring.”
Sessions laid out several policy priorities in a memo to all federal prosecutors, titled “Renewed Commitment to Criminal Immigration Enforcement.” Prosecutors will be required to consider prosecution for people who transport or harbor unauthorized immigrants across the border, putting a priority on those who smuggle three or more individuals, he wrote.
U.S. attorney’s offices will also crack down on individuals who illegally re-enter the U.S. without authorization. Re-entering the country after a prior removal will be referred for felony prosecution, “especially where indicators of gang affiliation, a risk to public safety, or criminal history are present,” he said. Attorneys must consider prosecution in every instance of an individual re-entering the country without authorization after being removed.
They must also consider felony prosecution for individuals with two or more prior misdemeanor convictions for improper entry, or one or more prior misdemeanor convictions if there are certain circumstances, such as prior removals, felonies or gang affiliation, according to the memo.
Government attorneys will also consider felony prosecution for individuals who get married to evade immigration laws, Sessions wrote. When possible in these cases, attorneys must pursue charges for document fraud and aggravated identity theft, with a two-year mandatory minimum sentence for the latter.
Prosecutors will put a top priority on going after people who assault, resist or impede federal immigration officers, Sessions added.
Sessions said the Department of Justice will also ramp up its hiring efforts for immigration judges ― adding 50 this year and 75 next year ― to cut current backlogs that lead to many undocumented immigrants waiting years to have their cases resolved.
The attorney general, like other Trump administration officials and the president himself, tied a drop in unauthorized border crossings to the president’s immigration policies. Legal advocates believe part of that drop is due to CBP agents turning away asylum-seekers in violation of international law, which CBP denies. In addition to deportations, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which is part of the Department of Justice, handles cases for asylum and other relief.
“We will execute a strategy that once again secures the border; apprehends and prosecutes those criminal aliens that threaten our public safety; takes the fight to gangs like MS-13 and Los Zetas; and makes dismantlement and destruction of the cartels a top priority,” Sessions said in his speech, according to prepared remarks. “We will deploy a multifaceted approach in these efforts: we are going to interdict your drugs on the way in, your money on the way out, and investigate and prosecute your trafficking networks to the fullest extent of the law.”
This article has been updated to reflect that Sessions veered slightly from prepared remarks.
Read the memo below: