“We hear you and we have your back.”
That is the message Attorney General Jeff Sessions shared with Customs and Border Protection personnel in Nogales, Arizona, on the U.S. southern border Tuesday.
In a speech Tuesday, Sessions announced five changes to immigration prosecution and enforcement:
- A crackdown on individuals who transport and harbor illegal immigrants. Sessions said, according to his prepared remarks, “We are going to shut down and jail those who have been profiting off this lawlessness—people smuggling gang members across the border, helping convicted criminals re-enter this country, and preying on those who don’t know how dangerous the journey can be.”
- Aggressive punishments for individuals crossing the border. Sessions said, “Where an alien has unlawfully entered the country, which is a misdemeanor, that alien will now be charged with a felony if they unlawfully enter or attempt [to] enter a second time and certain aggravating circumstances are present.”
- Serial border crossers will face harsher charges. Sessions said, “Aliens that illegally re-enter the country after prior removal will be referred for felony prosecution,” with a priority given to those who show “indicators of gang affiliation, a risk to public safety, or criminal history.”
- An inclusion of fraud and identity theft charges. Sessions said, “Where possible, prosecutors are directed to charge criminal aliens with document fraud and aggravated identity theft—the latter carrying a two-year mandatory minimum sentence.”
- Law enforcement officers will be protected. Sessions said, “I have directed that all 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices make the prosecution of assault on a federal law enforcement officer—that’s all of you—a top priority.”
In addition to these prosecution adjustments, Sessions announced several other changes to the Department of Justice and its nationwide offices.
Sessions said that “each U.S. attorney’s office, whether on the border or interior, will designate an assistant United States attorney as the border security coordinator for their district.”
In an effort to reduce the backlog of illegal immigration cases, Sessions said, “We will put 50 more immigration judges on the bench this year and 75 next year.”
Praising President Donald Trump’s efforts to make immigration enforcement a priority, Sessions cited that in March of this year “we saw a 72 percent drop [in illegal crossings] compared to the month before the president was inaugurated.” He added, “That’s the lowest monthly figure for at least 17 years.”
Sessions made it very clear that these policies will be strictly enforced, saying, “For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country, be forewarned: This is a new era. This is the Trump era.”