Sessions orders prosecutors to crack down on illegal immigration

Last Updated Apr 11, 2017 3:21 PM EDT

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is urging prosecutors to crack down on immigration enforcement to stop gangs and cartels from turning U.S. cities into “war zones,” and he promised Customs and Border Protection agents more support for their efforts to combat illegal immigration.

In Arizona, as he stood near the border with Mexico, Sessions talked about the “transnational gangs like MS-13 and international cartels flood our country with drugs and leave death and violence in their wake,” and “criminal organizations 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.”

“It is here,” Sessions continued, “on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand against this filth.”

He told Customs and Border Protection agents, “we hear you and we have your back,” and he promised to “secure this border and bring the full weight of both the immigration courts and federal criminal enforcement to combat this attack on our national security and sovereignty.”

In the memo and speech, Sessions instructed U.S. attorneys to be more aggressive on immigration enforcement by doing the following:  targeting traffickers, charging a second illegal entry as a felony (technically, this is a misdemeanor), to charge identity theft whenever possible -- which carries two year minimum -- and also increasing focus on anyone who assaults a federal law enforcement officer.

Acknowledging the decrease in border crossings last month, which was the lowest monthly figure for at least 17 years Sessions says, he told prosecutors that he wants to redouble efforts on enforcement to reduce illegal crossings further. 

Sessions also announced he’s increasing staffing at the overwhelmed immigration courts, adding 50 more immigration judges this year and 75 next year.

If civil rights enforcement was the signature issue of the Obama Justice Department, the Trump Justice Department’s issue so far seems to be immigration. Tuesday’s event and memo are a broad effort to pursue not just those who cross the border illegally, but also the illegal industries around and related to them -- human traffickers, document forgers, identity thieves, drug cartels -- as well as those who harbor aliens.      

Sessions, in his remarks, invoked the name of Kate Steinle in his push for increased prosecution of immigration offenses. Steinle was a young San Francisco woman killed by a stray bullet fired by an undocumented immigrant who is a convicted drug felon who had been deported to Mexico several times.