This morning, Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited the US-Mexico border in Nogales, Arizona, to announce a new get-tough approach to immigration enforcement, directing federal prosecutors to pursue harsher charges against undocumented immigrants. “For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country,” Sessions said, “be forewarned: This is a new era. This is the Trump era.”
In his remarks, Sessions said nonviolent immigrants who enter the country illegally for a second time will no longer be charged with a misdemeanor—they’ll be charged with a felony. He also recommended that prosecutors charge “criminal aliens” with document fraud and aggravated identity theft, which carries a two-year minimum sentence. In January, President Donald Trump expanded the definition of which immigrants can be considered “criminal” to include anyone who has committed “a chargeable criminal offense,” which could include sneaking across the border.
As he proposed stiffer penalties for nonviolent immigrants, Sessions also targeted gangs and cartels “that 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.” Invoking unusually severe language in the written version of his announcement, Sessions proclaimed, “It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand against this filth.”
In contrast to the dire picture Sessions painted, crime rates in American border cities have been dropping for at least five years. Even after a year of increased violent crime—which officials said had nothing to do with cartels or spillover violence—El Paso, Texas, is among the safest of its size in the nation.
Sessions also promised to hire 125 new judges to address a backlog of immigration cases and prioritized the prosecution of offenses such as assaulting immigration authorities and smuggling more than three undocumented immigrants into the country. He urged prosecutors to crack down on people who reenter the United States after being deported. “The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws, and the catch and release practices of old are over,” Sessions stated.
Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund, an immigration reform advocacy organization, issued a rebuke of Sessions’ statement. “Attorney General Sessions is grandstanding at the border in an attempt to look tough and scare immigrants. It’s yet another example of the Trump Administration treating all immigrants as threats and as criminals.”