Policy

Sessions Directs Prosecutors to Focus on Immigration Crimes

‘This is a new era. This is the Trump era.’

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is pictured with Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., right, during a mock swearing-in ceremony for Strange in the Capitol’s Old Senate Chamber, February 9, 2017. Strange filled Sessions’ senate seat. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

UPDATED 04/11/17 | 2:00 p.m.

The Trump administration will require federal prosecutors to prioritize cases involving immigration-related offenses in an effort to reduce the clout of criminal organizations along the Southwest border and deter illegal entry into the United States

A policy memorandum issued by the Justice Department Tuesday asks prosecutors to pursue cases against people accused of trafficking or harboring undocumented immigrants, as well as those undocumented immigrants who have been caught crossing the border illegally multiple times.

The memorandum also requires prosecutors to seek, as often as possible, deportation orders against defendants in immigration-related cases, and directs each office to designate a border security coordinator tasked with overseeing the investigation and prosecution of immigration cases.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who announced the new policy guidelines during a tour of the Arizona-Mexico border, said a renewed push to combat illegal immigration “will drastically reduce the danger posed by criminal aliens, gang members, and cartel henchmen.”

“This is a new era. This is the Trump era,” said Sessions, according to prepared remarks released by DOJ. “The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws, and the catch and release practices of old are over.”

Sessions also said that 25 immigration judges have been sent to adjudicate deportation cases at Homeland Security Department detention centers on the border. He also announced DOJ would hire 125 additional judges over the next two years to reduce a massive case backlog in the immigration courts.

This is the first tour of the U.S.-Mexico border Sessions is making as the nation’s top law enforcement officer. President Donald Trump has said repeatedly that he would crack down on criminal organizations that help drive illegal immigration and seek to deport 2 to 3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records.

President Donald Trump proposed an increase in funding for fiscal 2018 that would bring the total roster of immigration judges to 449. DOJ swore in 12 new judges in February, bringing the current total to more than 300 active judges. There are more than 500,000 cases in the immigration court backlog, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. 

This is the first tour of the U.S.-Mexico border Sessions has made as the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Trump said repeatedly that he would crack down on criminal organizations that help drive illegal immigration and seek to deport 2 to 3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records. 

Sessions attributed a sharp decline in border apprehensions in recent months to a pair of executive orders signed by Trump in January. These presidential actions expanded the Homeland Security Department’s enforcement priorities on the border, including the mandatory detention of all people crossing the border illegally. 

The new Justice guidelines for prosecutors complement the Homeland Security actions, Sessions said, by bringing “the full weight of both the immigration courts and federal criminal enforcement to combat this attack on our national security and sovereignty.”

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