Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who just concluded a tour of the U.S.-Mexico border, didn’t mince words Tuesday when addressing border patrol agents in Nogales, Arizona.
“This is a new era. This is the Trump era.” he said. “It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first … we first take our stand.” Judging by prepared remarks published ahead of his speech, however, Sessions stopped short. The full sentence reads: “It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand against this filth.”
In his speech and remarks, Sessions unveiled new priorities and guidance for federal prosecutors to enforce immigration law. And he made his focus clear: ramping up prosecution of nonviolent crimes committed by undocumented individuals. In fact, every U.S. attorney’s office in the country is now required to assign someone as “border security coordinator.”
The new guidance includes:
- Federal prosecutors are now required to pursue felony charges against immigrants who commit document fraud or identity theft. Assuming a false identity or “aggravated identity fraud” will carry a two-year mandatory minimum sentence. Sessions said prosecutors should also prioritize fraudulent or “green card” marriages.
- Prosecutors are also required to pursue felony charges against anyone “transporting or harboring three or more aliens,” Sessions said. “We are going to shut down and jail those who have been profiting off this lawlessness.”
- Sessions also increased unauthorized entry into the United States from a misdemeanor to a felony on the second offense “if certain aggravating circumstances are present,” he said. A 2014 Pew analysis, however, found that a boom in offenders sentenced in federal courts was largely driven by unlawful reentry convictions, which increased 28-fold between 1992 and 2012, accounting for nearly half the increase in federal sentences in that time period.
- Sessions also said he had directed all U.S. Attorneys offices to prioritize prosecution of assaults on federal law enforcement. “If someone dares to assault one of our folks in the line of duty, they will do federal time for it,” Sessions said. In his testimony before congress last November, former Customs and Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan said that assaults on his officers last year increased 200 percent. Last year, three officers in the 21,000 strong force were killed in the line of duty — compared to no officers killed in 2015. In 2007, however, seven officers were killed.
Aside from outlining new policy, Sessions didn’t miss the opportunity to rehash the tenuous link between violent crime and undocumented immigration. Reports have indicated that U.S.-born citizens commit violent crimes at a much higher rate than their undocumented counterparts. But Trump, Sessions, and other immigration hardliners have often pointed to particularly gruesome and horrific incidents of undocumented crime to make their case and trotted out family members of victims at events.
“When we talk about MS-13 and the cartels, what do we mean? We mean criminal organizations that turn cities and suburbs into warzones, that rape and kill innocent citizens,” Sessions said. “Depravity and violence are their calling cards.”
While Sessions talked tough and directly when reading from a script, he hedged with reporters. When asked about civil rights’ advocates’ concerns over ramping up militarization along the border, Sessions replied that he had met with “a number of civil rights leaders already” with whom he “discussed a number of issues.” He didn’t elaborate further.
Sessions was also asked what he planned to do about undocumented parents whose child was born in the U.S. Again, he hedged. “We want everyone to comply with the law,” Sessions said. “[Being here] lawfully doesn’t mean that others can enter the country unlawfully. We do have that challenge, we want people to understand that they are not entitled to enter unlawfully.”
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump floated the possibility of nixing “birthright laws” that automatically grant citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil — a popular notion among immigration hardliners.